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Nation 'Has 120 Mln Hepatitis B Carriers'

At least 120 million people in China have become carriers of the hepatitis B virus out of the 700 million people who once were infected with it, a senior health official said on Friday.

Hao Yang, deputy director of the Ministry of Health's disease control and prevention bureau, revealed the figure at a ceremony unveiling a free hepatitis B vaccination project for 320,000 primary school students in northwest China's Qinghai Province.

But he did not elaborate on details like major transmission channels and geographical distribution.

"Prevention should come first to contain this disease, which is highly preventable with efficient and the safe hepatitis B vaccine available since 1982," he told China Daily.

Since 2002, China has added the vaccine to its routine immunization programs, under which the government foots the bill for vaccines for all newborn babies.

In China, 40 percent of all infections are mother-to-child, according to Samuel So, director of the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University. Unfortunately, very few people are aware that a vaccine at birth is likely to stop the baby contracting the virus.

The vaccine, given as a series of three injections and costing roughly 60 yuan (US$8) for each one, is the most cost-efficient and effective way to curb the epidemic, which causes hundreds of thousands of deaths and major economic losses to China every year, noted Wang Zhao, vice-president of China Foundation for Hepatitis Prevention and Control, which helped raise the US$1 million funding for the project.

"Starting with children, the vaccine project is a step forward to help the nation finally shake off its notoriety as the 'major hepatitis B host'" Wang added.

Hao stressed that discrimination against hepatitis B carriers in fields such as employment and education should be eradicated, citing the halt to compulsory hepatitis B tests for job applicants.

(China Daily September 1, 2007)

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