BEIJING, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) -- China will provide free pre-pregnancy health screenings to women who plan to become pregnant in order to prevent birth defects, China's National Population and Family Planning Commission announced here on Thursday.
"Presently eight provinces including Guangdong and Hebei have already established pilot bases for the free check," said Li Bin, the director of the commission.
"The next step for the project is to make detailed regulations on financial expenses allocations and health check items," she said.
China has 800,000 to 1.2 million babies born with birth defects each year, accounting for 4 to 6 percent of the new births.
Government statistics show that among the infants born with defects, 20,000 have congenital heart diseases, 100,000 suffer neurological defects, 50,000 have cleft lip and 30,000 have Down's syndrome.
"Birth defects have become the main reason for newborn deaths in China. Among those who are seriously sick, 30 percent died soon after birth and 40 percent became disabled for life," said Li.
She added the commission would further publicize the importance of pre-pregnancy health checks, offer eugenic advisory lectures, encourage research on birth defects and develop more effective medicines and treatments.