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Health Ministry to Overhaul Leprosy Rehabilitation Centers

The Chinese government is set to invest at least 276 million yuan (US$35.4 million) over the next two years, in a bid to improve the living conditions and healthcare provided at more than 600 of its leprosy rehabilitation centers.
According to a joint Ministry of Health/National Development Reform Commission directive announced on 15 May, local authorities are also to close down some of the smaller rehabilitation centers -- where numbers of patients vary between one and 300 -- and transfer patients to larger facilities.
One third of these centers are in the country's most impoverished counties. Almost 47 percent of the center accommodation provided here has been deemed too bad to live in, according to Ministry of Health statistics published in April 2005.
The NDRC will bear 79 percent of the investment cost, with the remaining 21 percent expected to come from local governments, the directive says.
Provincial governments are also being urged to take full responsibility of leprosy sufferers' disability allowances and medical subsidies.
Official statistics claim there to be 6,300 leprosy sufferers nationwide, with most cases reported in the southwest of the country.
Leprosy, which is one of the oldest recorded diseases in the world -- first mentioned in writing in 600 BC -- causes deformities and nerve damage. It incubates in the human body for up to 20 years and is transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth during contact with untreated, infected sufferers.
Leprosy ceased to be a public health problem after a cure was made available in the 1980s. It can be cured by sustained year-long antibiotic treatment and disability can be prevented through early medication.
The Chinese government has for years provided free medical treatment to leprosy suffers and has launched a continuous public campaign to eradicate discrimination and the social stigma surrounding the disease.

(Xinhua News Agency May 16, 2007)

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