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Cord cells equal life insurance?
( 2003-08-30 07:33) (China Daily)

Liu Huifang, a Shanghai mother-to-be, is considering whether she should purchase new health insurance for her baby.

The reason: worries over diseases like leukemia, and the relatively new option in China of putting aside umbilical cord blood in case of a potential fatal disease.

Liu would have to pay up to 16,400 yuan (US$1,978) to store her baby's cord blood in a blood bank although the leukemia and similar fatal blood-based diseases are rare.

More local pregnant women say they have been facing this new dilemma since blood banks began offering the new service at the beginning of this year.

"Within one month, we have signed agreements with hundreds of local customers. The increasing business reflects people's improving awareness of their life quality,'' said Li Chunyan of Shanghai Zaishengyuan Life Co-operation Ltd, the city's first privately run umbilical cord blood bank. It opened recently.

According to Qiu Zhengyin, chairman of the board of the company, the bank's aim is to save the umbilical blood cells of about 10,000 infants' within the next two years.

Like Zaishengyuan, Xiehe Umbilical Cord Blood Bank based in North China's Tianjing, is also seeing good business since locating in Shanghai in spring.

Since the umbilical cord blood contains large number of immature blood stem cells, it's the ideal material for transplantation to treat severe blood diseases like leukemia and aplastic anemia. Respectively, the disorders hit three and two out of every 100,000 individuals.

To save one sample of a baby's umbilical cord blood, a parent is charged about 5,600 yuan (US$675) for medical tests in the first year. The following year there is a 600 yuan (US$72.37) charge.

Yet some medical experts are doubtful that the medical technologies can ensure the quality of the stem cells for transplantation after 10 years or even longer.

"We are vary cautious about the new medical service. We neither recommend that pregnant women in our hospital do this nor do we persuade them not to do so,'' said Chen Daning, spokesman for the Shanghai International Peace Maternity and Child Health Hospital.

Locals also have different ideas about the practice, either thinking it's too expensive or unnecessary.

"I don't think it's possible that my child will use it in the future,'' said a local, surnamed Ye.

The privately run bank just provides service for profit and doesn't accept donated blood, although local medical officials have been calling for such a public service for many years.

The Shanghai Health Bureau and local Red Cross planned to set up a non-profit public bank two years ago, but failed to start it due to a lack of funds. According to Qiu, the total investment to create and operate such a bank is up to 10 million yuan (US$1.21 million).

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