China blames pollution as birth defects rise

BEIJING (AFP) – Every 30 seconds a baby is born with physical defects in China, partly due to the country’s deteriorating environment, state media said, citing a senior family planning official.

The figure, reported by the China Daily in its weekend edition, adds up to almost 1.1 million in a year, or about seven percent of all births in the world’s most populous nation.

“The number of newborns with birth defects is constantly increasing in both urban and rural areas,” said Jiang Fan, vice-minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, according to the paper.

She did not give a figure for the increase in the prevalence of birth defects in recent years.

A report in the Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao newspaper last month gave a lower figure for birth defects, saying they showed up in four to six percent of all births in China.

The factors behind birth defects are “very complicated”, Hu Yali, a professor at the Affiliated Drum Tower Hospital of Nanjing University in east China, told the Beijing-leaning Hong Kong paper then.

She said research suggested 10 percent of birth defects were caused by environmental pollution, while 25 to 30 percent were due to genetic factors, and the rest were due to a mixture of both, according to the Ta Kung Pao.

North China’s coal-rich Shanxi province, a major source of toxic emissions from large-scale chemical industries, has recorded the highest rate of birth defects, the China Daily said in its weekend edition.

“The problem of birth defects is related to environmental pollution, especially in eight main coal zones,” said An Huanxiao, the director of Shanxi provincial family planning agency, according to the paper.

Pan Jianping, a professor of the Women and Child Health Research Office under Xi’an Jiaotong University, warned that the increasing rate of birth defects among Chinese infants would soon become a social problem.

“It will influence economic development and the quality of life,” he was quoted as saying.

“Economic pressure is very heavy for families raising babies with physical defects, particularly for those who live in poor rural areas,” he said, according to the paper.

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