More than 17,000 Tibetan households will move into new homes away from possible water sources that might have contributed to an incurable, endemic bone disease that leaves victims unable to work, local authorities in the Aba Tibetan-Qiang autonomous prefecture in Sichuan province have said.
With an investment of 1.1 billion yuan ($157 million) from the government, a total of 17,067 households in mountainous villages with high incidence of Kaschin-Beck disease will resettle in new homes by 2013, said He Wentao, an official of Aba's development and reform commission.
The disease bloats the joints of its victims, leading to limb deformity or dwarfism.
New houses are being built and water pipes will be installed, a key measure of purifying drinking water for local farmers and herdsmen.
The move is part of a comprehensive scheme aimed at helping 41,184 Kaschin-Beck patients in Aba, most of whom are of Tibetan ethnicity, fight the bone disease.
Aba has reported the highest number of Kaschin-Beck incidents in Sichuan since the disease was diagnosed there in the 1950s. Of the 1,354 villages in Aba, 294 villages have been identified as having very high incidences of the disease. The prefecture has a population of 874,000, 78 percent of whom are farmers and herdsmen and 55 percent Tibetans. The endemic disease is said to hit mostly youths. Most patients lose the ability to work and end up getting trapped in poverty.
The first part of the scheme saw the local authorities moving students to schools outside their home villages in 1996.
So far, the initiative has benefited more than 26,400 students aged between 5 and 15 across the prefecture, He Yuan, deputy director of the educational bureau of Aba, said.
The first group of students under the pilot phase, who are reaching their 20s, are basically free from Kaschin-Beck symptoms, He said.
In Nanmuda township, 912 students, 90 percent of whom are suffering from the disease, are studying in a boarding school away from their homes in neighboring townships. They receive a monthly meal subsidy of 110 yuan.
"I'm never worried about our children. They are studying and living in a safe environment," said Qoimqung, father of two boys in the school.
The disease is mainly found in a long and narrow region extending from the country's northeast to the southwest, plaguing at least more than 810,000 people in 14 province, regions and autonomous regions including the Tibet autonomous region, the China Medical Tribune has said.
The cause of the disease remains unconfirmed. Some experts have said that ingestion of a certain kind of fungus contained in highland barley, a staple food in the regions, and low iodine and selenium intake, may be contributing factors.
Under the program, each patient can get 15 kg of rice every month for free, to replace the suspected highland barley. They also get their medical costs refunded.
The central and provincial government will spend 3.5 billion yuan in the next five years to further poverty-relief and prevent and treat the disease.
(Xinhua/China Daily April 28, 2008)