DUBAI — Health officials have called for legislation making thalassemia test compulsory for Grade 9 students and its inclusion in the curriculum as a subject.
They have also sought provision of uniform treatment methods across the emirates. Thalassemia is a genetic blood disorder and affects one in 12 Emiratis.
A survey done in Dubai in 2006 revealed that only 45 per cent of the 6,400 respondents were aware of the disorder. “This is the reason why we have drawn up recommendations that are being put up to the Minister of Health for action,” said Saeed Jafar Al Awadhi, financial manager and member of Emirates Thalassemia Society.
“We are expecting a legislation to take shape in two years,” he added.
The Ministry of Health, Emirates Thalassemia Society and the Thalassemia Centre in Al Wasl Hospital are pushing the recommendations.
The recommendations also call for making compulsory premarital blood testing measures more stringent and raising awareness about the need for blood donation.
“Grade 9 students are old enough to understand the need for testing and can also be educated on the disorder through a subject,” said Al Awadhi, explaining why the experts were pushing for testing in G9 students. “They are old enough to take their own decisions.”
“Educating them on the complications that a child born to a thala-minor couple may make them cautious in choosing their life partners,” he explained. A school health official said that though medical tests were being carried out on school children, none of them tested for thalassemia.
“Tests are done on G1, 5 and 9 students but we only do a complete blood count,” said Dr Fawzia Al Jeziri, director of School Health, Ministry of Health. “If a child has a low blood count, he is sent for further testing,” she says, adding that a thalassemia-only test will detect the disorder early on. As prevention, the UAE laws call for compulsory pre-marital testing for national couples. However, since the law came into effect two years ago, only two couples called off their marriage after both were discovered with thalassemic traits, said Al Awadhi. “Most couples are bypassing this rule and may get their marriage certificates registered in emirates that are lax in their rules,” said Al Awadhi.