Pre-marital health checks reimposed in Heilongjiang
Growing number of unhealthy newborns behind the decision
Heilongjiang has become the first province to resurrect compulsory pre-marital health examinations in an attempt to counter escalating rates of congenital infections in newborns.
The decades-old physical checks were dropped as a precondition for marriage registration in October 2003, partly due to privacy concerns.
Heilongjiang Health Department said only 0.43 per cent of couples who registered marriages in the province last year had the physical assessments, in contrast to 75 per cent who underwent the checks two years ago.
Jiang Xiangchun, a provincial health department director, said the number of children born with syphilis, hepatitis B and other infectious diseases contracted from their parents had risen in recent years.
'We had nine cases of syphilitic babies in Harbin last year, while only two cases were reported in the city before 2003,' Ms Jiang said.
The provincial people's congress, convinced of a connection between diseases in newborns and the end to premarital checks, passed a mother-and-infant protection regulation at the end of last month to reintroduce the compulsory examinations.
'Chinese are traditionally shy. They are reluctant to have check- ups, especially relating to the reproductive system. And some don't know they have the social responsibility to give birth to healthy children,' Ms Jiang said.
Shandong Health Department is waiting for provincial government approval to reintroduce the compulsory checks.
Ministry of Health statistics indicate that less than 10 per cent of couples marrying on the mainland last year had the pre-marital checks. Before 2003, it averaged 90 per cent.
In Guangzhou, Chengdu and Zhengzhou , local health authorities said the number of unhealthy newborns had risen each year since 2003.
But Civil Affairs Minister Li Xueju said in Nanjing this month that it was a misunderstanding to link the end of compulsory checks with newborn health problems.
Mr Li said that according to a 'thorough investigation', there was no 'necessary and direct connection' between the two.
Wu Changzhen, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, said that irrespective of the debate between health and civil affairs authorities, it was up to local governments to handle the issue.
'Local people's congresses have the right to enact local regulations,' Professor Wu said.
Tsinghua University professor Li Dun said it was possible the system would be reintroduced nationwide because medical institutions could profit from the service.