5000 children in Pakistan diagnosed with thalassemia every year: Experts

Published: October 23, 2012
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Thalassemia is a major health concern in Pakistan and is the most prevalent genetically transmitted blood disorder, with a carrier rate of five to eight per cent. PHOTO: COURTESY DR HAROON MEMON/FILE

Thalassemia is a major health concern in Pakistan and is the most prevalent genetically transmitted blood disorder, with a carrier rate of five to eight per cent. PHOTO: COURTESY DR HAROON MEMON/FILE

ISLAMABAD: Health experts claim that approximately 5,000 children are diagnosed with thalassemia-major, every year in Pakistan.

According to the health experts, thalassemia is a major health concern in Pakistan and is the most prevalent genetically transmitted blood disorder, with a carrier rate of five to eight per cent.

One of the possible solutions to combat the health hazard is public awareness. Experts pointed out that media can help Pakistan reduce the preventable disease by carrier detection and avoiding in-family marriages.

They said that the issue should be included in the high school curriculum and urged educational institutions to kick-start the awareness program.

Treatment of thalassemia is expensive, the experts said, adding that prevention programmes should be immediately initiated in order to reduce the burden of thalassemia patients.

They said screening to identify thalassemia carriers, genetic counseling and prenatal diagnosis can greatly reduce the growth rate of thalassemia affected infants.

Dr Waseem Khawaja from Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) added that thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder in which the affected children are unable to maintain hemoglobin (Hb) at a normal range. Their bone marrow cannot form sufficient red blood cells and the red blood cell survival is also greatly reduced.

He explained that thalassemia minors carry one defective gene of thalassemia. Under stress, like a surgery or pregnancy, they experience low hemoglobin levels.

Dr Khawaja said thalassemia major is a serious blood disorder which causes severe anemia and related complications. This is caused by the presence of two defective genes.

He said that in a case where both parents are thalassemia minors, there is a 25 per cent chance of birth of a thalassemia major child, 25 per cent chance of a normal child and 50 per cent chance of a thalassemia minor child.

Dr Khawaja added that patients need regular blood transfusions every three to eight weeks to maintain normal hemoglobin levels.

Due to regular blood transfusions, however, there is a high chance of thalassemics being exposed to blood infections like HIV, hepatitis B and malaria.

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Reader Comments (4)

  • Mj
    Oct 23, 2012 - 8:57PM

    The pragmatic solution is to only allow cousins to get married after they’ve been tested for genetic compatibility. It is very cruel to punish an innocent child with a life long illness despite knowing the risks associated with having a child with first/second cousin.

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  • Jai
    Oct 24, 2012 - 8:31AM

    @Mj:
    Or perhaps changing the culture and not getting married to cousins at all.

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  • Dr. Doolittle
    Oct 24, 2012 - 10:08AM

    Thalassemia was common in UAE a few decades ago. But a few hematologists there began education people, specially the less educated ones, to avoid first cousin marriages. In addition the UAE government made genetic tests mandatory for legalisation of marriages in the country in 2006. Genetic testing is quite common in UAE and we should learn from their example.

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  • Muhammad Navid Tahir
    Oct 25, 2012 - 10:54AM

    Absolutely agreed to the point & in this regard, Govt. of Punjab has launched a Thalassaemia Prevention Programme entitled: Punjab Thalassaemia Prevention Programme. The program focuses on the prevention by offering following service at no cost:

    Awareness about Thalassaemia
    Screening of carriers
    Genetic Counselling
    Pre-natal Diagnosis

    Currently, this program is working in 12 Districts (Sheikhupura, Kasur, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Vehari, Khanewal, Lodhran, Muzaffargarh, Bahwalnagar, Jhelum, Attock & Toba Tek Singh) of Punjab

    For more details please contact:

    Punjab Thalassaemia Prevention Program,
    2nd Floor, Emergency Department,
    Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Lahore-54600, Pakistan.
    Off: +92 42 36373872

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