Study shows awareness about premarital screenings lacking

May 5, 2009

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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.

ENOC Supports World Thalassemia Day

May 5, 2009

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Staff members to wear campaign T-shirts and caps

Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC) has announced its support to the community health awareness campaign organised by Emirates Thalassemia Society from May 2 to 8, 2009, in connection with World Thalassemia Day on Friday, May 8, 2009.

In line with ENOC’s initiative, information posters on the genetic blood disorder are now available at all service stations in Dubai and Northern Emirates. ENOC staff members are also wearing campaign T-shirts and caps, as well as distributing information material among customers to encourage them to take advantage of the free screening tests and participate in the blood donation campaigns to assist those suffering from this disease.

Khalid Hadi, ENOC Group Brand and Marketing Manager, emphasised that ENOC’s support to the Thalassemia campaign reflects the group’s ongoing commitment to the community. He said: “Giving back to the community is a top priority for ENOC and we are keen to fulfil our commitment in all aspects of life, especially healthcare.”

“We are committed to support such initiatives as we realise the importance of enhancing the knowledge and awareness of Thalassemia. With a large number customer turnout, our service stations are ideal locations to disseminate information and increase the public’s awareness on the simple steps they can take that will make a huge difference,” Hadi added.

To further support Thalassemia patients, ENOC arranged a blood donation drive on May 4, 2009 at ENOC Complex, in cooperation with Al Wasl Hospital, which is the central blood bank of the Department of Health and Medical Services. ENOC employees and members from the public participated in the campaign to help meet the continuous need for blood supplies.

Thalassemia patients require regular, and in some cases frequent blood transfusions for survival. Though highly prevalent in the Gulf region, all it takes to prevent this disorder is a simple and inexpensive pre-marital blood test. The high prevalence of this disease means that blood banks in the country are constantly under pressure to meet the transfusion needs of patients.

The Thalassemia Centre functioning at Al Wasl Hospital under the Department of Health and Medical Services currently uses 60% of its blood reserves to treat Thalassemia patients.

Screening campaign to move to Wardha

March 18, 2009

Courtesy by: timesofindia

NAGPUR: The Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI), Central Regional Centre based in Nagpur, is launching a screening campaign for sickle cell disorder and thalassemia in Wardha district as a part of its ongoing detection and awareness drive towards checking the two diseases from spreading further in general population.

The survey is already screening schoolchildren in the city as part of the programme for Nagpur district.

AnSI’s director in New Delhi V R Rao, who was in the city on a short visit, said that since both the diseases are spreading their tentacles from the tribal and some other selected populations to general population, the survey is conducting a mass screening in Vidarbha.

Currently, the survey is targetting population in the age group of 13-18 years (pre-marital age) to identify the carriers of the disease in an effort to try and convince them to either not marry a carrier or in case the marriage takes place, to avoid having a child. Children born out of marriage between two carriers always have children with the disease.

“The common man may know sickle cell anaemia, thalassemia, Glucose-6-phosphate de-hydrogenase (G6PD) as some of the genetic disorders which affect some selected populations. But for AnSI these diseases are indicators of bio-cultural human evolution” Rao said.

The director explained that when man moved from the hunter and gatherer stage to more settled life with agriculture, diseases like malaria affected the population severely.

To prevent the human body from falling prey to the plasmodium falciparum, which causes the more dangerous malaria, point mutations occurred in some genes which caused the red blood cells to take sickle shape. Similarly even G6PD is an X chromosome linked recessive hereditary disease characterised by abnormally low levels of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase.

“People need to understand the inheritance mechanism of these genetic diseases to prevent them from entering newer populations. Hence, the survey is trying to catch the carriers of the sickle, thalassemia and G6PD before the marriage so that through right counselling the carriers could be told the repercussions of marriages between carriers of genes of both these diseases”, Rao said.

Mandatory thalassemia testing urged in Pakistan

March 14, 2009

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Dr. Sarfraz Hussain Jafri, vice president of the Thalassaemia Federation of Pakistan, is urging the government to pass a bill pending in parliament that would mandate thalassemia testing prior to marriage. Jafri said the move would reduce the cases of the disease among children, citing the success in Iran and Cyprus in initiating preventive measures for thalassemia.

Marriage hopes dashed

March 13, 2009

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RIYADH – Hopes of over 10,000 persons wanting to tie the knot were dashed as obligatory pre-marital tests conducted by the Ministry of Health found them unfit to marry.

A majority of those failing the tests suffer from venereal and hereditary diseases. The results revealed 39 cases of AIDS, 2,075 cases of Hepatitis B and 549 cases of Hepatitis C, Al-Watan said.

The report showed that 6,201 people were found suffering from sickle cell anemia besides 1,235 cases of thalassemia (a hereditary disease resulting from defects in the synthesis of the red blood pigment hemoglobin).

Dr. Khalid Marghalani, spokesman of the Ministry of Health, said 166,657 people have so far undergone pre-marital tests since the introduction of the obligatory test in 2005.

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