Dubai: Prevention and education are key to managing genetic disorders, said Dubai doctors.

According to the World Health Organisation, the most cost-effective strategy for reducing the burden of genetic disorders is to complement disease management with prevention programmes.

“We strongly believe that prevention is the key to reduce the impact of genetic disorders, socially and economically, and is a long-term sustainable solution, especially in a country like ours where close to 60 per cent of population is under 30 years of age,” said Dr Mariam Matar, founder and chairperson, UAE Genetic Diseases Association (UAE GDA).

She explained that economic impact of prevention-based approach will give the highest returns in the long run.

“For example, the cost of genetic screening of Thalassemia is Dh120 and the cost of treating a patient is Dh35,000 per annum,” said Dr Matar.

Another case in point is neural tube defects, another common genetic disorder of the brain, spine, or spinal cord of new born babies, explained Dr Matar. While a course of Folic Acid — which is the most recommended tool to reduce the risk — costs less than Dh30, management of one case of neural tube defects will cost approximately Dh2,700,000, he added.

In 2017, UAE GDA continues to work on empowering high-risk groups and communities with prevention tools, which are affordable and accessible. They are also working with Bourn Hall Fertility Centre (BHC) on several community outreach programmes, which will help improve quality of life for patients and their families.

“Year 2017 is being marked as the Year of Giving by UAE and through our partnerships with UAE Genetic Diseases Association and Dubai Endowment Authority we are able to support the locals by offering discounted and in some cases free IVF cycles while giving them easy access to our IVF specialists helping them to start healthy families,” said Hoda Abou Jamra, Group CEO of Bourn Hall International.

Recent estimates indicate that there may be more than 400 genetic disorders in UAE. According to UAE GDA, the most common genetic disorders in UAE include thalassemia, sickle cell anaemia, haemophilia, G6PD deficiency and cystic fibrosis.

“Genetic testing is the key to improving the quality of genes in a society where consanguinous marriages are common. It is recommended for those with family history of chromosomal abnormality of any single gene disorder, recurrent pregnancy losses, implantation failures, unexplained infertility, advanced maternal age or male factor infertility,” said Dr David Robertson, group medical director at Bourn Hall Fertility Centre in Dubai.

He pointed out that couples who have had an earlier child with an abnormality could diminish the risk of having the second child with a similar abnormality.

UAE Genetic Diseases Association (UAEGDA), the national-level body, has been working on identifying the most common genetic disorders in the UAE since 2004, and has supported the leading health authorities to develop the necessary legislations for screening.