Health-care specialists will visit 80 cities over two years to promote well-being Several mainland-based NGOs have launched the country's first major public awareness campaign designed to attack the roots of poverty by improving health. The non-profit Sino-Health Authority project was launched yesterday by several groups on the mainland including the Primary Health Care Foundation and the Health Care and Poverty Relief Project. A team of health-care specialists will mount a health awareness roadshow in 80 mainland cities over the next two years, promoting the need for people to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to keep fit. The mainland's efforts in poverty reduction have been hampered by the country's porous health-care system in rural areas, especially in poverty-stricken regions. Statistics suggest that less than 10 per cent of people living in the countryside have access to public health care, putting the country fourth from the bottom in the global coverage ranking in 2000. Jiang Jianguo, director of the development centre for the China health care and poverty relief project, said the roadshow was part of a strategic shift in poverty reduction efforts. The centre was first trying to raise awareness of health issues among residents. According to official estimates, about 23 million mainlanders are still living in absolute poverty, earning less than 668 yuan a year. But the number of people living in poverty on the mainland would be much higher if the internationally accepted US$1-a-day threshold for absolute poverty was applied. 'My figures may not be precise but poor health is considered to be the result of between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of poverty cases,' Mr Jiang said. 'Focusing on health care in rural areas has become an important factor [in fighting poverty].' Pingshan county in Hebei province will become the first region to benefit from the programme. Ma Wengang , the county's deputy chief executive, agreed health problems in rural areas were particularly prominent 'because health awareness among the public is lower [in the countryside]'. '[On top of that,] medical facilities in these areas are also far from adequate,' Mr Ma said. In the next two years, specialists will give lectures to at least 200,000 people and offer medical check-ups and health counselling for up to 5,000 people in these regions. Executive secretary-general of the Sino-Health Authority work committee, Liu Xuansheng, said the initiative was a seeding programme, adding that the group could only make limited progress in fighting poverty by helping the public understand health issues. 'We hope such initiatives will take root in these areas with the help of local governments,' Mr Liu said. Organisers also hope to take the health initiative to the world, promoting a heath message that draws on the country's bundant traditional health heritage.