Muscat: Young couples who plan to wed are encouraged to have premarital screening tests to determine whether they carry genes that would be passed along to their children as genetic disorders, a health expert said during a lecture held at Scientific College of Design on Sunday.
The lecture, organised by Azhar Polyclinic, the Omani Women Association in Seeb and the Hillu Nughayyir(‘Change Is Awesome’) youth campaign, aimed at raising awareness among the mostly female audience attending the talk.
Dr Ali Anees Hanoosh, GP and Family Physician at Azhar Polyclinic, called on couples to undergo premarital tests, particularly when cases of genetic disorders are known within either of the families.
“Be open-minded and just consult a doctor and, with strict confidentiality, the doctor will be happy to explain everything that you need to know. You will be able to decide for yourself what to do with the information you receive,” he said.
According to Dr Hanoosh, five to seven per cent of newborn babies in Oman are affected with a genetic disorder, compared to the global average of four per cent. Further, he noted that 37 per cent of newborn deaths and premature deliveries are attributed to genetic causes. Also, 10 per cent of deaths in the first year and 52 per cent of deaths among children under age five are due to genetic disorders.
According to Dr Hanoosh, the main cause of this high prevalence is due to marriages within families or tribes.
He said that given the enormous cost of current treatment programmes of genetic disorders in Oman, avoiding the disorders is preferable. He added that during 2014, OMR45 million were spent on treating genetic blood disorders, which account for about 10 per cent of all genetic disorders in the Sultanate.
“It’s costing a lot of money to treat these disorders. It would be much better if we somehow could control or limit them, as much as possible”, he said.
In addition to increasing costs to the health system, people suffering from a genetic disorder are also prone to developing other complications, such as heart diseases linked to diabetes. “This is going to significantly affect the life of anyone suffering from these diseases,” he said.
Dr Hanoosh noted that although it is a sensitive topic in Oman, more couples are showing interest in participating in premarital screenings. “I have seen more patients seeking that type of counselling. I’m now having more young people coming to me, away from their families, away from any pressure, to do something about it,” he said.
Dr Hanoosh added that there are plans to offer premarital tests throughout the Sultanate, as “people in rural areas have the same rights to know, as people here have.”
Answering a question from the audience regarding whether the public will be required to undergo premarital testing, as might occur with diagnosing infectious diseases, Dr Hanoosh said testing for genetic disorders will not be mandatory.
“But this is not the most important question. I don’t think anyone is going to be willing to have their kids [affected by this]. This is not something that affects [just] you in person. It’s going to affect your offspring, and that’s something totally different,” he said.
Zaid bin Abdullah Al Salmani, head of Hillu Nughayyir, said they organised the lecture as part of their campaign to encourage youths to spread the message about the importance of avoiding genetic disorders.
“Since the Sultanate is known to have a high prevalence of genetic disorders due to marriages between relatives, this lecture was chosen to educate society about genetic disorders, their impact and how to treat and avoid them”, Al Salmani said.
“Most of those who think about marrying are youths. Genetic disorders are affecting their future, and medical awareness is one of the most important aims of our campaign,” he said.