The government said in a circular issued on Jan 15 that it will increase efforts to improve the health and education of children in impoverished regions.
In the 2014-2020 Plan for the Development of Children in Impoverished Areas, the State Council set a goal that the level of development of children in 680 impoverished counties - concentrated in 11 regions - should reach or approach the national average by 2020.
The plan covers newborns and children up to their last year of junior middle school.
By 2020, the maternal mortality rate should be reduced to 30 per 100,000, infant mortality rate should be reduced to 12 per 1,000, and the mortality rate of children under the age of five to 15 per 1,000.
The proportion of children under the age of 5 having growth retardation should decline to less than 10 percent, the proportion of those with low body weight to less than 5 percent and those with anemia to less than 12 percent.
The State Council also said the plan requires that more than 90 percent of children in townships of these counties should receive vaccinations provided by the country’s immunization program for children.
Additionally, more than 90 percent of children with visual, hearing or intellectual impairment should enjoy compulsory education, which covers primary and junior middle school.
To accomplish these goals, the State Council asked its departments and provincial-level authorities around the country to implement measures to prevent and treat birth defects and provide free pre-gestational tests - funded by the central government and local authorities.
In 2009, the National Health and Family Planning Commission decided that local authorities should implement a program that provides free folic acid supplements to women in rural regions who are trying to conceive.
This program should continue in impoverished counties, and these counties should offer screening of newborns, including for congenital hypothyroidism, phenylketonuria, and hearing impairment - and also offer better treatment and rehabilitation services.
The plan also requires local authorities to provide nutritional advice and other guidance to women - with the aim of helping them give birth to healthy babies.
The local authorities should improve their detection of high-risk pregnancies and increase efforts to prevent and handle premature births.
They should also continue to offer subsidies to women in rural areas who give birth in hospital, and require that health insurance and medical aid programs offer a higher level of reimbursement to encourage women in impoverished areas to give birth in hospital.
Children’s nutrition should also be improved. The State Council called for efforts to encourage breast-feeding for babies under six months, and required local authorities to promote awareness of the benefits of breast-feeding.
A pilot program to improve nutrition of infants in financially challenged families should be gradually expanded to all the 680 counties with the aim of preventing malnutrition and anemia. Local authorities should also improve the nutritional value and food hygiene standards of school meals in rural regions.
They should also set up a system to assess the nutrition and health status of children, and offer better training to health workers, so they can prevent diseases linked to poor nutrition. The authorities should provide nutritional guidance to teachers in kindergartens, primary schools and junior middle schools, as well as school canteen workers and parents.
Local authorities should regularly conduct physical exams for children and set up a personal health record system, with information including height, weight and whether they suffer from anemia.
Physical examinations for pre-school children should be funded by the government and provided by grassroots clinics free of charge, and medical checkups for school children should be funded by schools.
Local authorities should ensure that the national immunization program for children is fully implemented, and they should also provide vaccination services to children not covered by the program. They should also aim to prevent- and tackle -conditions such as iodine deficiency disorders among children. Local maternal and child healthcare service centers should improve their services to prevent poor vision, impaired hearing and tooth decay among children.
The plan required that all children should be covered by the public health insurance program, and children with severe diseases - including congenital heart disease, leukemia, cleft palate, hypospadia, phenylketonuria and hemophilia - should enjoy better insurance policies.
Medical institutions should improve their services for mothers and their children, including perinatal health and care of children with serious conditions.
Local authorities should give priority to helping schools in the 680 counties gain access to safe drinking water, and should help the schools build restrooms and bathrooms with improved sanitation conditions.
They should also equip the schools with better physical education facilities, and organize training for teachers concerning psychological counseling for minors.
Other tasks include offering education services for children under the age of 3, providing pre-school education for children in impoverished areas, limiting the number of students dropping out of primary or junior middle schools in rural regions, and introducing broadband networks into rural schools.