Even to those with very little medical knowledge, syphilis is known as a terrible disease. Not only is it not easily cured, but it also signals a painful and uncomfortable life for sufferers.
It is not surprising that a young couple were left heartbroken when doctors at the Changchun Children's Hospital told them their newborn child was afflicted with congenital syphilis. The young couple themselves are also victims of the terrible illness. The disease was passed to the child in the womb.
Although it is rare for a baby to be diagnosed with syphilis, this is the eighth case in Changchun, northeast China's Jilin Province, this year, according to statistics from the Changchun Mother and Child Health Care Centre.
Experts at the centre said if the parents of these children had undergone physical examinations before trying for babies they would not have passed on the illness, if properly treated.
Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province yesterday adopted a revised regulation to reiterate the importance of premarital health checks, making it a must for couples that want to tie the knot.
Couples preparing to be married must deliver results of health checks to the marriage registration office to ensure they receive the proper marriage license.
"Some infectious diseases have been spreading in recent years, such as hepatitis B and syphilis, which severely affect the health of mother and baby," said Jin Lianhong, director of the Heilongjiang Provincial Health Care Department.
"Premarital checks are an important method for curbing the number of birth defects, and it is a good thing to reinforce it by making it compulsory," he said.
Lu Bozhi, director of the Harbin Maternity and Child Care Hospital, who is in charge of premarital check-ups, welcomed the new regulation.
"We used to find many couples with some hereditary and infectious diseases as well as venereal diseases," he said.
Medical check-ups prior to marriage had been compulsory for almost 20 years in China, and many serious hereditary diseases and infectious diseases have been discovered at this stage, Guan Yuwei, the centre's vice-president, told China Daily recently.
But on October 1, 2003, the new Marriage Law came into effect, making check-ups optional for those who wish to tie the knot. The number of couples undergoing the physical examination has plummeted nationwide.
In Changchun more than 93 per cent of couples in urban areas had medical check-ups before marriage registration between January and September 2003. But in the following year the rate dropped to just 2 per cent.
In 2002, 9 percent of those examined were found to have sexually transmitted or other contagious diseases.
These people were advised to put off marriage plans until they were cured - or were even told not to get married at all, Guan said.
Nationally, the number of new couples attending a physical examination before marriage dropped dramatically last year. Only about one out of every 10 couples had a medical check-up.
In north China's Shanxi Province, which reported the largest number of congenital disease cases among newborn babies last year, the rate of premarital physical checks was just 2 percent. In some areas of South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, almost no one had a physical examination before marriage, CCTV.com reported.
The number of newborn children with congenital diseases has doubled since the procedure became voluntary, according to Li Yuan from Beijing Xuanwumen Mother and Child Care Centre.
China has two laws and one regulation related to physical examination before marriage - the Marriage Law, the Law of Mother and Infant Health Care and the Regulation for Marriage Registration. These rulings conflict with each other, Beijing News reported.
The Marriage Law does not include premarital physical examination as a precondition of marriage registration. Hence, the Regulation for Marriage Registration, which was revised and took effect in 2003 by the State Council, clearly abandoned the system of compulsory premarital examination.
But in the Law of Mother and Infant Health Care, which came into being in 1995, premarital examinations are necessary for marriage registration.
Such confusion has caused problems across the country, the Beijing News stated.
Hao Yi, a university graduate who got married on New Year's Day this year, said she and her husband did not have a physical examination.
"Honestly speaking, I did not trust the hospital. I think the hospital was only asking for money by doing so," she said.
Many are so confident of their health they think a check-up is unnecessary. But there are those who know they are infected with a particular disease and fear the truth will come out.
Yu Xuejun, an official from the State Family Planning and Population Commission, said the commission is neutral with regard to the regulation introduced in Heilongjiang. But he agreed premarital physical checks should be reinforced, Sina.com news reported.
In the wake of the rising number of birth defects nationwide, many regions have begun to take measures to raise awareness of the importance of premarital checks.
Health departments in Beijing and Shanghai municipalities, Shenyang of Liaoning Province, Qingdao of Shandong Province, Nanjing of Jiangsu Province and Wuhan of Hubei Province are considering introducing free premarital physical examinations.
(China Daily July 22, 2005)