China's falling pre-marital medical check-up rate has led to an increase in the number of babies born with congenital physical defects, an official report said here Friday.
The report said the percentage of new couples taking pre-marital medical check-ups plummeted from 68 percent in 2002 to 3 percent in 2005.
"Consequently, the rate of new-borns with congenital defects has risen from 11 per thousand in 2002 to 14 per thousand in 2005, " said the report, written by the National Working Committee on Children and Women under the State Council.
Pre-marital health checks used to be compulsory for couples applying for a marriage permit in China, especially in urban areas. But under the new regulations on Marriage Registration adopted in October 2003, the process was made voluntary. Since most of the tests cost money, 97 percent choose not to have them.
In 2001, the State Council issued a ten-year plan on children's development (2001-2010), which says that the country hoped to raise pre-marital check-up rates in urban and rural areas to 80 percent and 50 percent respectively in 2010 and significantly lower the congenital defect rate.
"In the current situation, achieving the targets is rather difficult," said the report in a burst of understatement.
Statistics from the Ministry of Health show that birth defects affect one in ten Chinese households, imposing a total annual financial burden of one billion yuan (125 million U.S. dollars).
Nearly 30 million households are raising or have raised babies born with defects. Cleft palette, neural tube defects, excessive numbers of fingers or toes, congenital heart disease and water on the brain are the top five birth defects among Chinese babies.
In an effort to prevent rising congenital diseases, many local governments have began to offer free pre-marital check-ups, but response has been thin.
The report also warned of the rising danger of HIV/AIDS transmission from mother to infant.
Official statistics show that China has 650,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, many of whom are at the age of having children.
The report said the proportion of women among reported HIV carriers rose from 16.3 percent in 2000 to 27.6 percent in 2005, increasing the danger of mother-to-infant transmission.