Program increases health of children

Updated: Jun 23, 2021 China Daily Print
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A rural doctor introduces the Ying Yang Bao Program, or Fortified Complementary Food Supplement to Song Junxuan and her grandmother in Lushi county, Henan province. CHINA DAILY

Editor's note: To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, China Daily is publishing a series of stories on the changes and developments in various fields and industries.

Provision of nutritional supplement leads to reduced national incidence of infant and maternal mortality

Four-year-old Song Junxuan had struggled with fever, cold and diarrhea from the time she was born-until a sachet of slight yellow powder came to her rescue.

The packet, called Ying Yang Bao, contains a mix of essential vitamins, minerals and proteins designed for infants and youth at risk of micronutrient deficiencies. It can be mixed with water, rice or other simple foods.

Lushi county, where Song was born, was one of four severely poor regions in Henan province.

The county, with a population of about 380,000 people, is carved up by more than 4,000 hills and mountains, and 2,400 rivers and streams.

Song, whose parents had left her in the care of her grandmother when she was 10 months old to work in other cities, began taking the powder daily after a local doctor found she was suffering from anemia.

The rollout of Ying Yang Bao, or Fortified Complementary Food Supplement, was the cornerstone of a nationwide program aimed at improving the nutritional status of toddlers in impoverished areas.

The program was launched by the National Health Commission and All China Women's Federation in 2012.

To this day, Song's grandmother can't help but heap praise on the program. "She now goes to the kindergarten and she rarely gets colds or diarrhea," she said.

In addition to offering free supplemental food, local authorities have launched programs to educate parents on correctly mixing the powder and to promote understanding of child nutrition.

The local government said in July that more than 26,000 children across the county had benefited from the program. The county was officially removed from the impoverished list in February.

Jin Xi, a women's and children's health expert at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that by the end of last year, the program had been expanded to include all 832 previously impoverished counties in the country. More than 11.2 million children had participated, she said.

The rate of anemia in young participants fell by 51 percent after the program was initiated, and the rate of stunted growth dropped by 68 percent, she said during a news conference in April.

"When distributing the packets, parents of poor families also have a chance to get in touch with healthcare workers who can share knowledge about child raising," she added.

The program's fruitful outcomes would not have been possible without decades of research efforts by Chinese researchers, led by Chen Junshi, a prominent nutrition scientist and a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, as well as Chen Chunming, founding president of the China Academy of Preventive Medicine, now known as the China CDC.

Since 2001, Chinese researchers have launched several pilot projects in Gansu, Qinghai and other inland provinces to develop a formula for Ying Yang Bao with adequate efficacy. Pilot results have been promising, with a significant decrease in the incidence of fever and diarrhea for children who were fed the supplement daily for at least six months, according to the commission.

The program also played a significant role in preventing an increase in child malnutrition in earthquake-stricken areas.

After a devastating earthquake hit Wenchuan in Sichuan province on May 12, 2008, health authorities, with the support of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, raced to send packets of the supplementary food to severely affected areas.

The biggest challenge during the emergency aid program was to ensure the smooth and consistent transport of food packets to remote, mountainous areas, experts have said. Eighteen months later, the rate of anemia in these regions had dropped from 79 to 31 percent.

"The project in quake-hit areas also helped improve the distribution, information collection, promotion and surveillance of the Ying Yang Bao program," experts said.

The success of the program offers a peek into the remarkable progress China has achieved in terms of boosting women's and children's health in the past decades.

Song Li, head of the commission's department of Maternal and Child Health, said that in addition to improving the nutritional status of children, the country has expanded access to prenatal examinations, and cervical and breast cancer screening in impoverished countries, in an effort to narrow the gap between urban and rural regions.

"The health of women and children is a significant marker of the development of society," she said. "In 2020, the national maternal mortality rate was 16.9 per 100,000, down by 15.9 percent from 2015. The infant mortality rate stood at 5.4 per 1,000 in 2020, a decrease of 33.3 percent compared with 2015."

She added that in terms of the key barometers of women's and children's health, China is in the leading group among middle- and high-income countries.


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