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China Starts Plan Against Poverty in Tibetan-inhabited Area

China will start a five-year program to lift the Aba region in Sichuan Province out of poverty and reduce the incidence of an incurable endemic bone disease.

Maiwa Township in Hongyuan County, located in the Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Aba, will be the pilot site of the program, which will begin this year.

Speaking at a function to mark the start of the program on Tuesday, Fan Xiaojian, chief of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, said the central government would allocate an extra 334 million yuan (about US$47.72 million) to finance the program each year.

Located on the southeastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Aba has a population of 874,000, of whom 55 percent are ethnic Tibetans.

Due to its location, Aba has a comparatively backward economy. There are 173,900 poor people in the region, of whom 78,400 live in abject poverty with an annual net income of 693 yuan.

The region has also been one of the worst-hit areas in China when it comes to the Kaschin-Beck pandemic, a rare endemic disease that bloats the joints and leads to limb deformities or dwarfism.

Aba has reported the highest Kaschin-Beck incidence in China since the disease was diagnosed there in the 1950s. Patients suffering from the ailment now number 42,689 in the region. The disease leaves them unable to work and trapped in poverty.

Under the plan, compiled by Fan's office and Sichuan Province, the program will have three initial goals: the prevention and control of Kaschin-Beck disease, poverty eradication and capital construction.

Goals to be fulfilled include:

By 2009, a total of 26,000 school-age children will be sent outside of their hometowns to avoid contracting the bone disease. Safe drinking water will be made available to 126,000 residents in villages where the disease prevails, plus 310 schools. Free medical care and lodging will be provided to 5,528 patients who have severe Kaschin-Beck disease.

By 2012, the infection rate of children living in villages with the disease should be brought below 10 percent.

Also, the annual net income of impoverished residents should have risen and those who now live in abject poverty should have sufficient food and clothing, with an annual net income of 1,640 yuan.

(Xinhua News Agency May 8, 2008)

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