Thalassemia: Pregnant women must test foetus by 12th week

Published: April 28, 2011
Patients need regular blood infusions their entire lives.

Patients need regular blood infusions their entire lives.


Something has to be done about the rising number of thalassemia cases in Pakistan — and the charity must begin at home.

“If there is already one child in the house with thalassemia, the mother should test her unborn in the 12th week of pregnancy,” recommended Dr Saqib Ansari, a consultant paediatric haematologist at a programme at the press club on Wednesday. He runs the thalassemia Programme at the National Institute of Blood Diseases (NIBD) that is trying to make people more aware on how they can protect their families.

The NIBD’s Dr Tahir Shamsi said that we immediately need to control the spread of this “major health problem” — between five and eight per cent of children have it in the country.

Thus, if a foetus tests positive for the blood disorder, experts strongly recommend aborting the pregnancy before the 17th week.

During their work in the last eight years, Ansari says, 96 per cent of couples in Badin have followed expert advice and terminated their pregnancies. He added that as part of a community initiative, a donor group will provide transport and cover the cost of an abortion to encourage couples to get tested.

The number of thalassemia patients is going up every year, alarming experts who say that in the next eight years the country could have up to 300,000 patients.

Thalassemia is spread from parent to child when both adults have a condition known as ‘thalassemia minor’. Being a thalassemia minor does not affect quality of life in any way, doctors explain. However, when two minors procreate, the child has a 25 per cent chance of being disorder free. But there is another 25 per cent chance that the baby will be born a thalassemia minor as well and there is a much higher chance, 50 per cent, that the baby will be a thalassemia major.

At present there are over 10 million people with thalassemia minor and between 60,000 to 100,000 people have thalassemia major in Pakistan. The blood disorder, which manifests six months after birth, can be fatal as the body’s red blood cells do not possess the ability to regenerate. In such a situation, the person needs regular blood infusions.

The experts also suggested preventing the spread of the disease by legislation. Laws could be passed to ensure people get tested prior to their wedding. If the husband tests positive for thalassemia minor, then the wife must be tested as well.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th, 2011.

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