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Vitamins may reduce birth defect rates
By Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-16 02:04

A birth defect intervention project began on Tuesday in North China's Shanxi Province, targeting a reduction in the high rate of birth defects in some parts of the province.

With the country's average rate of such defects in the past two decades at 1.3 per cent, the rate in Shanxi Province remains at 1.8 per cent, according to statistics.

The rate in some parts of Luliang and Taihang mountain areas in the province has reached an alarming 4 to 6 per cent.

Experts believe the high rate of birth defects there is related to a lack of of basic vitamins for women in the early stages of their pregnancies.

An ample vitamin supply has been shown by scientists to be important to proper embryonic development, which can reduce the rate of some birth defects and improve the quality of births.

"However, previous surveys show the population in Shanxi Province has a prominently lower acquirement rate of vitamins than the national average," said Professor Zheng Xiaoying, director of the Institute of Population Research at Peking University/WHO Collaborating Centre.

To improve the nutritional conditions for local people, the project plans to add vitamins into flour, a staple food in the area.

The nutrients to be added will be provided by various international organizations, said Chen Chunming with the International Life Science Institute's branch in Beijing.

The project has gained support from the World Health Organization, United Nations Children's Fund, and International Life Science Institute.

"But we will begin with an investigation first in three counties starting from August," Zheng said.

The investigation is to find out the exact nutritional condition of local people, including the status of birth defects, social and economic status, and natural and geographical conditions in Liulin, Dongyang and Jiaokou counties.

It is expected that by next January that flour with the added nutrients will be given to an estimated 250,000 residents.

And inspection and evaluation will be carried out along with the project, and successful experiences will be extended to areas with similar situations, Zheng said.

The project is sponsored by Shanxi provincial government and the country's Healthy Baby Promotion Programme.

The high rate of birth defects has bothered the province which is pursuing sustainable development both socially and economically.

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