Bahrain in new bid to check genetic disorders
Manama, November 29, 2011
About 15,000 new-born babies at two of Bahrain's main hospitals will be screened for genetic and metabolic disorders within the next two years, said a senior official.
Led by diagnostic services managing director Dr Jamal Golbahar of non-profit Al Jawhara Centre for Genetic Diagnosis and Research, it aims to find out the predominant genetic and metabolic disorders in Bahrain and encourage the government to introduce a mandatory newborn screening programme.
He said premarital screening was not enough because some metabolic disorders can only be detected after birth.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the GCC that has implemented such a screening programme.
'Health systems in Europe and US conduct these tests as a matter of course, but there is no such system in Bahrain,' he said.
'We are trying to persuade the government to invest in mass screening for all in all of the hospitals. It must be controlled by the government otherwise people don't bother. In every country in the world the Ministry of Health regulates the programme. In the UK they won't give you the birth certificate without the baby having this test.'
Dr Golbahar said it was imperative such a screening programme was introduced because the risk of babies with genetic disorders increases in consanguineous marriage (marriage between relatives), which are between 60 to 70 per cent in the region.
If both parents are carriers of a genetic disorder there is a 50 per cent chance it will be passed on to their children.
'In general there is a one in 2,000 chance of a child being born with a metabolic disorder, but it is only one in 50,000 to 60,000 in the US and Europe,' said Dr Golbahar.
'In the Asian community in the UK and Europe the percentage is similar to the lower figure.'
The pilot study screening will be conducted by taking a blood spot from the baby's heel by prick test when it is two days old.
It will be tested for 50 genetic disorders, including blood disorders such as sickle cell anaemia and thalassaemia.
Those found to have a disorder will be followed up by a team of experts who will treat their condition.
Each test costs BD12 ($31.87), but the amount is negligible compared to the burden on the government if the child develops brain damaged, said Dr Golbahar.
'These disorders can't be detected initially when they are in the early stages,' he said.
'If they are not detected at an early stage they can develop problems such as mental retardation, seizures and irreversible disorders.'
Dr Golbahar said that in addition to a screening programme there must be a follow up team to give the babies the treatment they need.
'The tests are easy but the follow up is important, it's not ethical to say the baby has a problem, you must follow up,' he said. 'There is a solution for these children if they find out before the damage is done. The best therapy is diet therapy, where they must exclude some foods from the diet.'
Dr Golbahar was speaking on the sidelines of the Eight International Scientific Conference and the official launch of Her Highness Princess Al Jawhara Centre for Molecular Medicine, Genetics and Inherited Disorders in Salmaniya yesterday.
Understood to be the first of its kind in the region, it plans to work on the follow-up and treatment of genetic diseases, prevention, treatment and scientific research, as well as raising awareness and health education in all communities of the GCC.
The conference brought together experts from across the world to discuss the latest advances in infertility treatment and genetic research.
It also discussed clinical, diagnostic, research and educational services of the centre.
Bourn Hall Clinic, Cambridge, UK, group medical director Dr Peter Brinsden discussed the fertility services of the clinic and the In-Vitro-Fertilisation (IVF) units it is opening in Dubai and India.
He said IVF clinics were in demand in the region not because there were more fertility problems, but because patients tended to seek help earlier than those in the West when trying for a baby.
'The threshold for seeking help here is more,' said Dr Brinsden. 'If they are not pregnant within a few months they seek help because there is a lot of pressure to get pregnant in this part of the world.”
'There may be less infertility here in some way because there are less sexually transmitted diseases and promiscuity and so it is less likely that men and women will have problems. Also people are more educated and aware that help is available and they are more able to afford expensive treatment,” he added. – TradeArabia News Service