China's childbirth death rates decline

PHOTO: China's childbirth death rates decline

Maternal and infant death rates have dropped significantly in China, along with the death rate of children under age 5, a senior health official said on Thursday.

Wang Guoqiang, vice-minister of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said at a news conference that the maternal death rate in China in 2013 was 23.2 per 100,000, down 56.2 per cent from 2000.

The infant mortality rate was 9.5 per 1,000, and the death rate of children under age 5 was 12 per 1,000, both down by about 70 per cent from 2000.

"China has achieved the UN Millennium Development Goals ahead of schedule in the infant mortality rate and under-5 mortality rate," he said.

One policy the country has adopted to improve maternal and child health is providing subsidies to rural women who give birth in hospitals, Wang said.

In 2009, the National Health and Family Planning Commission and the Ministry of Finance asked all provinces to give such subsidies.

Zhu Jun, director of a national office responsible for supervising women and children's health, said the programme was originally tried in central and western China in 2000, as many women in these areas tend to give birth at home, assisted by midwives and family members who are not professional medical workers. These circumstances resulted in a higher risk of death.

The programme has played an important role in reducing the death rate of pregnant women, but there can be more financial support to poor pregnant women with high risks, as treating a high-risk pregnancy is expensive, she said.

Wang said the birth-defect rate dropped for two consecutive years - 2012 and 2013.

The prevalence of perinatal birth defects in China increased from less than 88 per 10,000 in 1996 to more than 153 per 10,000 in 2011. However, the rate dropped to 145.64 and 145.06 in 2012 and 2013.

"This means defects in 16,000 babies has been avoided in the two years," said Zhang Shikun, director of the women and children's health department under the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

In order to reduce the number of birth defects, the country has launched various programmes, including one begun in 2009 that distributes free folic acid pills to rural women. This helps prevent a serious condition in newborns called neural tube defects, Zhang said.

More than 45 million rural women benefited from the programme, she said.

Also, it has provided a free-of-charge health checkup programme for rural couples before the women get pregnant. Of those couples, 12.8 per cent have been provided consultation when they were detected as having health risks associated with childbirth, she added.