Shanghai health officials are to provide free medical services for a month for an estimated 700,000 sufferers of incurable hepatitis B. Doctors fear many with the liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis or cancer, cannot afford to seek treatment and are doing little to prevent it spreading. The city's health bureau told the Shanghai Daily that fewer than 10 per cent have regular check-ups on the progress of the disease. Hepatitis B, which like Aids is spread through sexual contact and blood transfusions, is believed to be highly contagious, and Shanghai health officials say they intend to launch a public awareness campaign. The newspaper quoted Dr Qu Yao, director of the Shanghai Liver Disease Research Centre, as saying that many carriers of the disease ignored medical treatment in favour of taking medications featured in 'glitzy advertisements'. He said the condition of more than 20 per cent of patients worsened after using unsuitable drugs. Many urban workers, who once enjoyed cradle-to-grave welfare benefits, are now unable to pay for medical treatment, as the cost has risen because of economic reforms. Doctors at the city's Changzheng Hospital said they would provide free treatment and lectures on the prevention of the disease for a month. The newspaper quoted health officials as saying that there were 120 million hepatitis B virus carriers in the country, including 30 million chronic sufferers. The number of chronic sufferers is increasing by two million each year, the Shanghai Evening Post reported. China was spending 50 billion yuan (HK$47 billion) annually on research, it said.