Abu Dhabi: To prevent hereditary diseases such as thalassemia from spreading, the UAE Government should introduce mandatory pre-marital tests for secondary school pupils, an Emirati doctor said.
According to the World Health Organisation, one in 16 Emiratis suffers from the disease, and requires multiple blood transfusions, putting them at risk of an iron-overload, which can cause irreversible damage to kidneys and the heart, leading to more serious and life-threatening medical conditions.
"Emiratis tend to marry their relatives, which increases the risk of developing thalassemia. Even though the UAE Government has introduced mandatory pre-marital tests, we can prevent the disease further, by diagnosing pupils in schools, before they even decide to engage in a relationship," said Dr Saqqaf Alawi Al Saqqaf, consultant paediatrician, in charge of thalassemia patients in Mafraq Hospital.
The government covers the treatment expenses for thalassemia, which is estimated to reach a minimum of Dh30,000 per year.
"If each of the married couple is carrying the thalassemia trait, chances are that 25 per cent of their children can end up dead; another 25 per cent chance that they end up normal, and a 50 per cent chance that they carry the gene," said Saqqaf.
Zainab Khazaal, manager of the Disease Prevention & Screening Centre in Abu Dhabi, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, affirmed that pre-marital tests are currently mandatory for both expatriates and Emiratis. However, only tests such as HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B are compulsory.
"Testing for thalassemia is not compulsory in a pre-marital test. However, people do have the option of testing for hereditary diseases such as thalassemia during a pre-marital test, which we always advise them to do at the centre, especially if they have a history of thalassemia in their family, or are married to their relatives," Khazaal told Gulf News.
Binay Shetty, executive director of NMC Group, feels introducing the pre-marital test option among pupils is a good idea but should not be made mandatory.
"I personally think raising awareness campaigns, and introducing free screening tests to prevent hereditary conditions is a good way of preventing them. I wouldn't encourage compulsory tests for hereditary diseases, but I would help make it available for the public if needed."
Dr Shamsheer V.P., Managing Director, Lifeline Hospital Group, finds it important to make the screening methods available to the public.
He said: If screening is widespread as in Kuwait recently, even the knowledge of the potential to have children with a disease does not stop 45 per cent of tested couples from proceeding to marriage
Saudia Arabia, Nigeria and some Pakistani regions have introduced compulsory screening. Only some USA states now insist upon Syphilis testing before marriage.
The main benefits are in those countries where a specific disease such as Thalassaemia, Hepatitis B or HIV is common.
Campaign: Awareness day marked
To mark International Thalassemia Day, Mafraq Hospital held its third annual Thalassemia awareness day yesterday, where 50 Thalassemia patients, and more than 150 attendees, including students, and parents, were offered an educational awareness campaign, followed by a live musical by a band from the Abu Dhabi Police, and a clown show.