The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) advocated the importance of awareness of thalassemia among community members.
Health officials discussed during the Authority’s smart clinic that although the number of new cases of thalassaemia in newborns in Dubai has drastically reduced, there is a need for ongoing awareness to ensure there are no new cases of the disease.
In the UAE, 8.5 per cent of the population are carriers. This is one of the highest rates in the world.
Dr Essam Dohair, Coordinator at the DHA’s Thalassemia Centre, said: “At the Centre, since few years, the number of new cases of thalassemia has reduced to four to five cases per year as opposed to 14 to 18 cases per year. However, our aim is to ensure no new baby is born with the disease in the UAE and this is actually a very attainable goal.”
Dohair said premarital screening has had a strong impact to reduce the incidence of the disease but the impact is not immediate. A premarital screening law for genetic diseases was introduced in 2006.
Dohair said: “Our message is clear-it is unadvisable for both partners with thalassaemia to get married because there are strong changes that all the babies born to that couple will carry the disease and we see several such cases. The way to prevent this is that couples should not opt for the screening few days prior to the marriage. They should go for the screening much in advance so that if both are carriers of the gene, they should avoid getting married.”
Dohair added: “Thalassaemia is a recessive genetic disease, meaning both parents must carry the gene to pass it along. When that is the case, with each pregnancy there is a 25 per cent chance that a child will be born with the disease, a 50 per cent chance the child will only be a carrier and a 25 per cent chance the child will not be affected. However, if only one person has thalassaemia it is still okay because the baby will be a carrier but will not have thalassaemia.”
He added that since 2007, the Centre has begun exhaustive community outreach and awareness activities which has directly resulted in reducing the number of thalassaemia cases in the emirate.
Schools, universities, malls and government departments were visited as part of the awareness campaigns.
Saeed Al Awadhi, Head of Cooperate Communications at the H.H. Sheikh Sultan Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan Humanitarian and Scientific Foundation said that a particular focus has been on educating school and university students. “Reaching out to them to understand the disease and its life-time complications has greatly helped curb the rise in number of new cases. The Emirates Thalassemia Society conducted a seven year project about ‘What is Thalassemia’ in schools and this was very well received by the children.”
He advised that students in grade 12 should opt to get themselves tested to understand whether they are a carrier or not and this is important to do early on in life so that they can take future decisions carefully.
He added that the Sultan Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan Humanitarian and Scientific Foundation organises awards every year to felicitate those working towards excellence in the field of thalassemia care.
Those interested to volunteer their services can contact the Emirates Thalassemia Society.