China's health minister Wednesday denied reports that officials had tried to cover up an outbreak of a highly contagious illness, but admitted problems exist in systems for reporting health threats.
Chinese media last month said doctors and officials in a county in the central province of Henan did not report an outbreak of hand, foot, and mouth disease, which had already killed 19 children nationwide.
But Health Minister Chen Zhu on Wednesday dismissed any cover-up suggestions, instead blaming low-quality medical systems for the inability to spot some health threats.
"According to our analysis, the main reason for the failure to report some cases was the (low) diagnosis ability at the grassroots level," Chen told reporters.
However, he also acknowledged that there were "problems with the way of thinking and the incomplete (reporting) system."
He did not elaborate.
The doctors and officials in Henan had avoided reporting the cases by keeping the disease's symptoms off the patients' treatment records, reports had said.
Following the reports, the health ministry sent investigators to Minquan county and found one child had died from the illness, while media reports have said there may have been at least 10 more uncounted deaths there.
There are numerous reports each year of Chinese local or provincial authorities covering up health and environmental threats to avoid being punished.
The state-run Xinhua news agency said that as of Friday, officials had reported 41,846 cases of hand, foot and mouth disease, which breaks out early each year in China.
Last year's toll was unusually high, with 128 deaths reported through the first 11 months of 2008.
State media had said foot-dragging by local officials last year had prevented the alarm being raised sooner.
The health ministry said 94 percent of those suffering from the disease in this year's outbreak were under three years of age.
Symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease include fever and sores. It can be fatal in children because of their less-developed immune systems.