BEIJING- China started the second wave of free pre-pregnancy physical examinations in 120 pilot counties in 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions on Thursday.
According to a statement issued in a joint meeting held by the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC) and Finance Ministry, 220 counties across China are covered in the free health examination program.
"To implement the pre-pregnancy examination program is significant in reducing birth defects and enhance the quality of the population," said the NPFPC director, Li Bin.
By the end of December last year, the program had provided free health examinations to more than 345,000 couples in the first 100 pilot counties since its launch in April, 2010.
Li said that the major task for this year is to provide pre-natal services such as health education, physical examinations and risk assessments for rural women who are looking to become pregnant, and increasing the program's coverage rate for the population, in phases, to 80 percent.
The examination fee, which is 240 yuan ($36.47) for every couple, will be paid for by special funds from China's central finance and local governments.
In Shanghai, the districts of Jing'an Yangpu and Songjiang were listed as state pilot districts. In fact, eleven districts in the city were already included as the city's pilot districts for free pre-pregnancy examinations.
More than 7,000 couples took the pre-pregnancy examination, 16 percent of which were found to be unfit for pregnancy and were given advice on treatment and lifestyle adjustments, according to information from the branch meeting held in the city.