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Liaoning steps up support for babies

By WU YONG in Shenyang | China Daily | Updated: 2020-01-20 09:45
A couple both born after 1990 hold their children, an infant daughter and her 18-month-old elder brother, in Shenyang, Liaoning province. [Photo by LI HAO/CHINA DAILY]

Liaoning's provincial government has promised to provide free disease screening for newborns and to build 400 digital vaccination clinics this year to address the province's declining birthrate.

The free screening service, for diseases including congenital hypothyroidism, phenylketonuria, congenital adrenal cortical hyperplasia and hearing impairment, will be provided for newborns to reduce the mortality rate of children under age 5.

Tang Yijun, governor of Liaoning, announced the package at the Liaoning Provincial People's Congress recently.

The 400 digital vaccination clinics will allow parents to book appointments via mobile phone apps.

This will make life easier for new parents, the provincial health authority said in a statement.

"Improving fertility is vital for the province, since it faces a severe aging challenge," said Wang Guifen, director of the Liaoning Health Commission.

Provincial statistics show the number of babies born in the province declined each year from 2016 to 2018. In 2018, when the province's population was 40 million, the number of births recorded was just 279,000.

To compound matters, the proportion of second-child births in the province was only 33 percent, 17 percentage points lower than the national average in 2018.

Experts said 2016 and 2017 were the first two years of the implementation of the second-child policy, but it had not reversed the negative population growth trend in Liaoning, indicating that local people were not keen on having children.

On the other hand, the proportion of people age 65 or older in Liaoning in 2018 was 15.17 percent, the highest among the six provinces in China with severe population aging, said Liang Qidong, vice-president of the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences.

"The aging population poses big challenges," Liang said."The shrinking labor force is unfavorable to economic development and consumption. Moreover, the government's social security pressure keeps increasing."

Experts say Liaoning is representative of China's aging problem. In particular, the problem of "getting old before getting rich" may be one of the major challenges in China in the coming years.

In order to curb the declining birthrate, local authorities have reviewed the province's preferential population policies three times in the past decade. The policy package introduced as a result includes measures to reduce parents' education burden and the provision of extra subsidies for two-child families.

Kong Lin, the mother of a newborn, said it was not a lot of money, but "it warms my heart".

"I really hope our country can provide more welfare policies to relieve stress in terms of education and medical service," she said, "because it is really hard to find a good pediatrician."

Besides support for newborns, the province has introduced policies providing longer wedding leave and special workplace protection for women during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.

Li Dingdian contributed to this story.

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