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Helping Pregnant Women

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He Jianping will turn 10 years old on March 8 next year, but he was lucky to enter the world at all in early 2001.

His mother suffered labor pains and was carried by stretcher with the help of villagers from Baoshan village, Yunnan Province, to the nearest hospital.

However, his parents had just 50 yuan to their names, collected from well-wishing villagers. It was far too little to pay for the cost of delivering a baby.

With the lives of both mother and infant at stake, the Maternal and Infant Health Project (MIHP) stepped in and came up with the necessary cash at the last minute.

Established in 2000 by the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, the project is a charity program designed to help poor mothers and children as well as lowering the maternal and child death rates in remote areas across China.

"I think poor pregnant women are the most vulnerable disadvantaged group in China because, if anything happens, it will threaten the lives of both mother and baby," said Huang Luchuan, the vice-director of MIHP.

Over the past nearly 10 years, the project has played a remarkable role in helping reduce maternal and infant death rates while raising the rate of hospital childbirth in poverty-stricken areas.

According to the Ministry of Health, 696 pregnant women out of 1 million died during childbirth in rural areas in 2000. The figure fell to 340 in 2009. The infant death rate in rural areas was 2.58 percent in 2000 but only 1.08 percent in 2009.

Because the number of hospital childbirths has a direct effect on the lives of pregnant women, in the project's initial period, its focus was on persuading people away from home delivery and to hospital. In 2000, 72.9 percent of women gave birth in a hospital. In 2009 the figure rose to 96.3 percent.

In its first five years, the project workers carried out many door-to-door inquiries to spread its message. They kept the general public in the project areas informed of every detail of the program by undertaking different campaigns and involving them in the process of supervision.

After five years of development, the workers started to establish relations with the media in an attempt to strengthen its public influence on society, which plays an important role in fundraising.

The project had covered 12 counties in six provinces with a population of 4 million and helped 113,000 people by the end of 2009 since it was first launched in Yulong county (previously known as Lijiang county), in Yunnan Province, in September 2000.

The charity project's aid work has many aspects, including the provision of allowances to pregnant women, offering professional training to local doctors, donating medical equipment to local hospitals and supplying goods and materials to women after childbirth and their infants.

Years of practice and experience has led project members to believe that more effort should be invested at the village and township levels to guarantee that every beneficiary receives exactly what the project promised her, Huang said.

"The charity idea is good and everyone knows that, but when it comes to the actual operation, it requires much more devotion and endeavor," he added.

"It is a very scientific but also painstaking program. We'll visit 20 households to learn their actual condition with the help of the program as part of a quarterly random inspection," said Wei Xiquan, director of the Maternal and Infant Rescue Center in Zhenghe county, Fujian province.

"All the work is done by me and two colleagues. We feel very satisfied when we receive a warm welcome from these rural residents during our inspection trips."

The rate of hospital childbirth in Zhenghe county increased from 62 percent in 2001 to 100 percent by the end of 2009, he added.

"The major difficulty comes from inadequate funds for publicizing the project among the general public," said Huang, "It usually takes about a year for me to finally succeed in persuading an entrepreneur into signing a contract with us. But once cooperative relations are established, it's always a long-term contract."

After a decade's development, MIHP is planning to expand its undertaking to caring for poor children's nutritional needs as they grow, Huang said.

(China Daily November 8, 2010)

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