Birth defects in China have increased by nearly 40 percent since 2001, according to statistics from the country's birth deformity monitoring center.
The figure was cited in a recent report by Jiang Fan, deputy head of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, at a conference in Chengdu, capital city of Southwest China's Sichuan Province.
Jiang said the rate of defects among all Chinese infants rose from 104.9 per 10,000 births in 2001 to 145.5 in 2006, affecting nearly one in every 10 Chinese households.
The total expenses they generate total several hundreds of billion yuan, he said.
He said that of the 20 million babies born in China every year, 800,000 to 1.2 million of them are afflicted with defects. As many as 300,000 of these are "visible deformities". This means that birth deformities affect up to 6 percent of the children born every year on the Chinese mainland.
"A baby with defects is born every 30 seconds in China, and this situation has worsened year by year," he said.
Statistics show that only 20 to 30 percent of these infants could be cured or treated. About 40 percent suffer lifelong deformities, while the remaining 30 to 40 percent die shortly after birth.
Jiang called for elevated State and public attention to redress the trend, which he said "directly affects China's comprehensive national strength, its international competitiveness, sustainable socio-economic development, as well as the realization of our strategic vision to construct a full-scale well-off society".
Although more detailed figures are still unavailable, existing numbers are enough to correlate the high occurrence of birth defects to geographic, environmental and economic factors as well as the level of education and health, An Huanxiao, head of the northern Shanxi Province's family planning authority, said.
Shanxi now tops the nation in birth defect rates.
Residents in its northern mountainous regions are more vulnerable than those in the southern flatlands, and birth deformity rates among people within and around the province's eight major coalmines are far greater than the national average, An said.
Rural communities and poverty-stricken areas are much more likely to birth babies with congenital defects than cities and economically developed regions. The statistics are also higher in places where basic education and endemic diseases are less prevalent.