Bahrain helping UK fight disease
Manama, November 24, 2008
British health officials could copy Bahrain's efforts in tackling genetic blood disease.
A Bahraini doctor will advise National Health Service (NHS) officials charged with tackling the problem in the UK.
Dr Shaikha Al Arrayed will help the NHS establish a screening programme for sickle cell disease and thalassemia.
The consultant geneticist and head of the Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC) genetics department received the invitation during a conference in London.
A proposal to screen couples in the UK for hereditary blood disorders before women get pregnant was among the topics up for discussion.
Bahrain has already introduced a similar system and screens all Bahraini couples before they get married.
'After this screening programme was initiated, we have greatly reduced the incidence of the disease in Bahrain and far less people are being born with the condition,' she said.
'Available evidence suggests that congenital and genetic disorders are responsible for a major proportion of infant mortality, morbidity and handicap in Arab countries, including in Bahrain, so we started this programme.'
Bahrain launched its own initiative to tackle high levels of hereditary blood disorders as a result of the high number of couples from the same families getting married.
Dr Al Arrayed said 25 to 60 per cent of all Bahraini marriages involved cousins, while the rate of first cousin marriages was high.
'In addition, isolated subpopulations with a high level of inbreeding exist,' she added.
The screening process involves couples providing blood samples before they marry to learn whether they are carriers of hereditary genes that cause blood disorders, such as sickle cell anaemia and thalassemia.
If both the man and woman are carriers, there is a higher chance of their children suffering from the disorders.
Both thalassemia and sickle cell disease are painful conditions - patients with the former have mutated red blood cells, while those with the latter have abnormal haemoglobin molecules.
Neither condition can be cured, although patients' symptoms can be treated. Bahrain launched its screening process for couples two years ago, but all newborns have been tested for genetic blood disorders for the past decade.
Random testing had been taking place among infants 10 years prior to that.
Dr Al Arrayed revealed that even with the new programmes in place, Bahrain had not eliminated the problem.
However, she said it had now been brought within manageable levels.
'Hopefully, we shall be able to pass on our experience to the NHS,' she added.
She explained that a British awareness campaign was likely to include screening of couples intending to marry, students and newborn babies.
'We (Bahrain) have continued these efforts for the last 20 years and these have resulted in a decline in the prevalence of such diseases among newborns by 60 to 70 per cent,' she said.-TradeArabia News Service