Arab News – Around 90 percent of men with sickle cell anemia and thalassemia insist on marrying first cousins even though there is a high risk of their children having these disorders and birth defects.
This is according to Ali Al-Ghamdi, general supervisor of marriage tests at Jeddah’s regional laboratory, who said that couples with genetic disorders often marry because they want to adhere to traditions, according to a report in a local publication recently.
Al-Ghamdi said that couples are not obliged to take tests. If they do, they are at least aware of the risks involved if they tie the knot with one of them having a genetic disorder.
He said clinics test for sickle cell anemia and thalassemia, among other diseases. If couples are negative they are given a certificate to continue their procedures. If one or both has a genetic disease they are referred to a specialist clinic where they will get advice on the consequences of getting married.
He said that if one or both has AIDS, HIV or hepatitis B and C, they would be referred to a specialized clinic to receive help and will not be given an approval certificate.
Al-Ghamdi said the program is aimed at helping to curb the spread of genetic and infectious diseases and avoid social and psychological problems that families are likely to encounter if they have sick children.
Genetic disorders, and in particular hemoglobinopathies such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia are common in Saudi Arabia, especially in the eastern and southern regions.
An estimated SR100,000 is spent annually on a patient suffering from sickle cell anemia or thalassemia, while HIV and bone marrow patients need SR100,000 and SR500,000 respectively.
There are 130 centers throughout the Kingdom, which include 91 laboratories and 80 clinics, for couples to get counseling. These facilities are staffed by 1,120 workers. The target is to reach 90 percent of prospective couples but so far the Health Ministry has only covered 60 percent under the program.


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