The bottle hanging on the wall beside Ma Xiumei's bed acted as a medical drip, but it has been dry for a week. Ms Ma, a 53-year-old who lives in a remote village in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region's Xiji county, can no longer afford daily transfusions to control her hepatitis B infection. She was diagnosed with the disease in July last year and has since spent more than 10,000 yuan on treatment. Her husband died more than 10 years ago, and some of her seven children have not yet reached adulthood. Her family savings have been exhausted and she is thousands of yuan in debt. One of her daughters pays for some of her medicine, but the younger woman can barely cover the cost with her monthly income of 1,800 yuan. Another daughter, Wang Caixia , just finished junior secondary school, but there is not enough money to send her to senior secondary school. 'I was jealous watching others go to school. But I don't have the money to go,' Caixia said. When she realised the extent of her family's financial woes, Caixia wanted to leave home in search of paid work. But her mother stopped her. 'If you go, nobody will cook at home,' Ms Ma said to her daughter. Caixia's brother still has one year left in junior secondary school, but dropped out to work in the fields previously tended by his mother. The teenager was also diagnosed with hepatitis B shortly after his mother was told she had the condition, but the family is too poor to pay for treatment. The drive to the hospital in Guyuan takes three hours, and each visit costs Ms Ma more than 1,000 yuan. The last time she went was in early August, after one of her daughters working in another province sent some money. 'I'll go to Guyuan when I have money,' Ms Ma said. When will she have the money? 'Don't know,' she said. And what if the money does not come? What will she do to protect her own health and that of her son? 'There is really no way out,' she said. Xu Xiang , a village doctor in Yongning county, says illness can mire a family deeper in poverty. 'To treat a major illness brings poverty. Farmers just can't afford medical treatment,' he said. But things may change in Yongning. Last year the county was chosen as a pilot site for a rural co-operative project to subsidise health care. Under the scheme, each farmer will put 10 yuan into a pool annually, and their contributions will be matched both by the central government and the local government. The fund will then cover part of the medical expenses of people paying in. A farmer surnamed Zou who lives in one of the county's villages said almost everyone in his community had signed up for the system. He said he had been treated in hospital for hepatitis B and the scheme would cover 35 per cent of the 6,000 yuan in medical fees racked up during his stay. 'It's more or less helpful,' Mr Zou said.