Study shows awareness about premarital screenings lacking

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JEDDAH: A recent study conducted by the fourth-year medical students at the King Abdulaziz University (KAU) suggests a general lack of awareness about the importance of premarital tests and how they help reduce the incidence of recessive gene disorders, such as thalassemia.

The study called on marriage officials to make sure prospective couples abide by the law and are pre-screened for the presence of shared recessive genes, as well as HIV and hepatitis B and C. A ministerial decision in 2004 obliged prospective couples to undergo genetic testing. In 2008, sexually transmitted infections were added to the mandatory testing.

The KAU study urges more resources be devoted to testing centers, including more staff and equipment. Awareness campaigns, the study says, play an important role in explaining to the general public the importance of pre-marriage screenings.

Last year, the Ministry of Health revealed that over a 10-month period, 49 people tested positive for HIV/AIDS; 3,250 people were found to carry hepatitis B or C; 545 people had the recessive gene for the common blood disorder thalassemia (meaning that their children were at a greater risk of inheriting the gene); and 8,251 of those screened had thalassemia.

The study said premarital tests and awareness centers have so far succeeded in finding out cases but not in changing the view about the test as a tool that can prevent potential health risks.

The study analyzed public perceptions before and after conducting an awareness campaign to evaluate if such campaigns are worthwhile. It surveyed three groups — students (the largest group at 3,479), 645 health care workers, and 655 people who visited these testing centers.

About 38.5 percent of those surveyed said their parents were cousins. The study found that before the awareness campaign, 91.9 percent of the student group did not have a clear idea about why the tests were necessary.

Out of the surveyed health care workers, 77.4 percent said they had not undergone any specialized training pertaining to these premarital tests. The average of awareness jumped from around 8.5 percent to 20.3 percent after the health awareness campaign.

Families and friends seemed to be the main source of information about the tests before the awareness campaign; this was followed by newspapers and TV.

Awareness in the university sample was more among women compared to men and better among students in science-related subjects compared to students of arts. Awareness was also greater among students whose parents were university educated and earned over SR5,000.

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