That educated people would be aware of health issues is more or less expected. But can such awareness be rammed down their throats? The reported proposal of the West Bengal health department that all universities make blood screening for thalassaemia mandatory for students within six months of enrolment and that all colleges test students for the same during admission seems too extreme — and fantastic — to be true. The driving idea behind this reported proposal is that the sooner young people know they are carriers, the more time they will have to choose their partners with caution, since children inherit the blood disorder only if both parents have it. But, besides the strange ideas of matchmaking the government seems to have, any health department anywhere in the world would know that the privacy associated with health tests and their reports makes mandatory testing an infringement of a person’s rights. A mandatory blood test at the threshold of higher education — of all things — is too absurd to have been seriously considered.
There is no denying that sensitization of society is important in cases of diseases and conditions that are particularly widespread, such as thalassaemia. Education and exposure comprise one route to such understanding, and public health campaigns another. The government has to be especially active on the last front: funds, the expertise for designing campaigns for various segments of the population and ensuring targeted spread of the campaigns are all necessary to sensitize the people. All this means both thought and work, but that is the only legitimate way the government’s concern about the spread of thalassaemia can be expressed. All governments know that ordering blood tests is not the way out, particularly after HIV has made mass blood-testing such a delicate and confidential issue. This is apart from the principle of individual rights to privacy. To sensitize the people, the government must be sensitive first.