Dubai: Inherited genetic mutations do not decide your destiny anymore. With more than 400 genetic disorders in the UAE, the country’s health sector is focusing on empowering the community by raising awareness about prevention methods and early detection to reduce the incidence of genetic disorders.

Dubai will host the seventh International Genetic Disorders Conference on November 9 and 10 this year, said Humaid Al Qutami, Director-General of the DHA on Monday during a press conference at the Dubai Health Authority’s office.

Al Qutami said the conference will create a platform for the government and private sector to come together to discuss genetic advances, treatment methods, and address the challenges faced in the field of genetic disorders.

The two-day conference will welcome more than 40 international, regional and local genetic experts from leading institutions and research organisations.

Dr Maryam Mattar, founder and chairperson of the Emirates Genetic Diseases Association, emphasised it is important for the UAE community to understand that having certain genes does not mean that the person will develop the disease.

“Technology such as next-generation sequencing has uncovered the genes responsible for more than 50 per cent of all rare diseases,” she said.

Through genetic testing and newer technologies, we are given the chance to understand our genes better and take action to help subside those genes by following a healthy lifestyle, sleep and exercise pattern, she explained.

“In some cases, it is important to undergo early medical intervention. However, inherited genetic mutation does not largely decide our destiny anymore. Advances in genetics has transformed preventive medicine for the better,” said Dr Mattar.

According to the Global Genes Organization, there are approximately 7,000 different types of rare diseases and disorders, with more being discovered each day. Approximately 50 per cent of the people affected by rare diseases are children.

In the UAE, the most common genetic disorders are blood disorders such as thalassaemia, sickle cell, anaemia, haemophilia and G6PD deficiency.

At least 8.5 per cent of UAE’s population are thalassaemia minor or carry the gene. With these numbers in mind, the government has implemented a mandatory premarital screening, which has been successful in drastically reducing the incidence of new cases.

“The cost of genetic screening of thalassaemia is Dh120, and the cost of treating a patient is Dh35,000 per annum. Similarly, the risk of neural tube defects, can also be prevented by a three month course of folic acid, which costs approximately Dh30, whereas treating a neural tube defects case costs Dh730,000,” said Dr Mattar.

Considering that a high percentage of the UAE population is under the age of 30, Dr Mattar referred to prevention as the key in reducing the impact of genetic disorders, socially and economically.

She said the upcoming conference aims to bring together regional and world experts in the field of genetics to discuss the latest advances in detection and management of genetic diseases.

Organised by the UAE Genetic Diseases Association, the conference will be held under the patronage of Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance and President of the UAE Genetic Diseases Association. Dubai Health Authority is a strategic partner in the conference.

The conference will also host the UAE International Genetics Disorders Prevention Awards 2018 that recognises the contribution of leading personalities working in the field of awareness, genetic research and studies.

Facts and figures

— 33,211 Emirati men and women have been screened for the three most common inherited genetic disorders in the UAE

— 9,011 DNA samples were taken for genetic testing

— Trained 537 students from 17 universities

— More than 400 genetic diseases in the UAE

— Most common genetic disorders are thalassaemia, sickle cell, anaemia, haemophilia and G6PD deficiency

— At least 8.5 per cent of UAE’s population are thalassaemia minor or carry the gene

Source: Emirates Genetic Diseases Association