CHANGSHA - Eight-year-old Xiaohai (pseudonym) will soon leave his home - the Butterfly Children's Hospice in central China's Hunan Province - where he has been living for five years.
Xiaohai was abandoned at the age of three when he was diagnosed with periventricular leukomalacia, which can lead to serious diseases, including cerebral palsy.
"His condition improves almost every day," said Lyn Gould, founder of Butterfly Children's Hospice. When Gould first came to China, palliative care for children was almost nowhere to be found in the country.
After many years of independent charity work, in April 2010 she opened China's first children's hospice in Changsha, capital of Hunan, in cooperation with the city's No.1 social welfare institute and a British philanthropic foundation.
Any child under 14 years old with a life expectancy of less than six months can be admitted. At least four nurses will be assigned to each child. Treatment and food are also personalized.
A total of 176 orphaned, abandoned and very sick babies and children have received care in the home since it opened.
"Our survival rate has topped 45 percent," said Guo Yongying, a manager at the Butterfly home. Guo said many children broke the curse of their six-month living limit and were transferred to hospitals or rehabilitation organizations for further treatment.
A boy nicknamed Xiaobin was one of them. Diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy in June 2012, under the care of Butterfly home, he was able to talk, run, ride a horse and swim, before being adopted in Feb. 2014.
So far 22 children are in much better conditions and have been adopted for a new life.
However, the lucky ones are rare when compared to the large number of children with incurable diseases from remote and poor regions. According to the national cancer registration authority, about 30,000 to 40,000 children are diagnosed with cancer every year in China, leukemia, lymphoma and solid tumors being the most frequent.
"On average, four children are diagnosed with malignant tumor diseases every hour in China," said Zhou Xuan with Beijing Children's Hospital. "Though medical advances can cure 80 percent of leukemia patients, the remaining 20 percent face a dim future."
Zhou said parents normally choose to bring their child home when they know treatment cannot be continued. Without professional care or medical support, both parents and children live in fear and pain for the remaining time.
"When all treatment plans fail, hospices play a key role," said Liu Jitong, health policy and management professor at Peking University. Liu said hospice care has been expanded to children from their previous focus on the adults, particularly the elderly, in recent years.
In 2013, Butterfly home founded another hospice in eastern China's Nanjing and carried out training for Chinese medical and nursing professionals. No. 454 Hospital in Nanjing also established a hospice ward open to children.
In 2014, Shanghai Children's Medical Center opened a hospice ward, the first of its kind in China. So far, every district in Shanghai has set up at least one hospice.
Beijing also set up a hospice for children in 2015, covering the capital and its surrounding areas. The team consists of doctors, psychiatrists, volunteers and community workers providing care for nearly 100 child patients and their parents..
More hospices have been set up across China, with the help of leading hospitals and charity organizations.
In Butterfly Children's Hospice Friday, British Princess Anne witnessed the signing of cooperation agreement between the hospice, Xiangya hospital and Hunan provincial children's hospital. Later she attended a forum to discuss improved palliative care for children in China.
"The Butterfly Children's Hospice has made a big contribution to the development of palliative care services for children in China, and much has been achieved by the government too," the princess said.