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Migrant workers get vaccines
( 2003-12-24 02:38) (China Daily)

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in Beijing will receive measles and encephalitis vaccine amid fears of a high rate of infection of epidemic diseases due to the dry weather.

At least 800,000 migrant workers in the city will be offered free vaccines for the first time in the city. The inoculation is scheduled to be completed by January 15, just before the workers take trips back home for Spring Festival (Chinese Lunar New Year), which falls on January 22 and runs until February 5.

Yesterday at a construction site in Chaoyang District, hundreds of peasant labourers were jostling each other, waiting for their turn for the free encephalitis vaccine.

The measles vaccine, set for the second phase, is to be given two weeks later, and will also be free of charge.

It is the first time that the Beijing health authorities provided free inoculation to migrant workers who usually have poor access to health care.

All the migrant workers in Beijing, engaged mainly in the construction, catering, garment and shoe industries, are expected to receive encephalitis and measles vaccines before January 15.

The massive inoculation will cost 3 million yuan (US$350,000). The municipal government will pay for it, apparently in an effort to prevent epidemics from breaking out and spreading and not to repeat the explosive outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) earlier this year in the city.

Li Guoying, an official with the Municipal Disease Control and Prevention Centre, said most of the 800,000 peasant labourers had never received any vaccine inoculation before, due to a poor health care in rural areas.

"Because migrant workers usually live in crowded places with poor hygiene conditions, encephalitis and measles outbreaks are very common and the virus may spread quickly among them, especially in winter,'' Liu said.

Health experts said measles and encephalitis are two of the most contagious of all human viruses.

Measles causes a rash, cough, and fever, and encephalitis often begins with a flu-like illness with headaches and vomiting.

Both of the diseases can lead to death if treatment is not given in time.

"Many migrant workers usually do not see a doctor when they have a fever or any other ailments. So the group of migrant workers is at high risk of contagious disease outbreaks,'' said Liu.

Statistics indicate that the incidence of measles among migrant workers is nine times that of local residents, and the incidence of encephalitis is 15 times more than that in urban residents.

"There were several cases in which migrant workers died from measles or encephalitis in recent years, and it is urgent for us to carry out the inoculation project this year,'' Liu acknowledged.

However, she said it was a tough work for her centre to ensure every migrant worker receive the two vaccines before January 15.

"Many workers will soon go back to their hometowns for a family reunion at the Chinese Lunar New Year. If they have not receive the inoculation before they leave Beijing, we can provide additional service to them when they come back after Spring Festival,'' said Liu.

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