x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Call for university thalassaemia screening

Health officials are calling for universities to introduce mandatory testing for thalassaemia to prevent the spread of the genetic disease.

DUBAI // Health officials are calling for universities to introduce mandatory testing for thalassaemia to prevent the spread of the genetic disease. "It is vitally important to reach the youth population before they even get to the pre-marital testing," said Dr Khawla Belhoul, director of the thalassaemia centre at Al Wasl Hospital. "By the time you get to pre-marital testing it will be too late, because once you are involved it is much more difficult to fix the situation."

Speaking at the launch of its new website, Dr Belhoul said the centre was trying to persuade health authorities to encourage universities to screen their students before they began their courses, because it was important for them to be aware of the disease early. "We want to recommend this at the entry level for all students at universities here, and those who are already at universities," she said.

"This is an age group that are getting involved and getting married, and so they need to be targeted." Thalassaemia, a blood disorder that causes anaemia, is the most common genetic disease in the UAE. However, there is still a large gap between those who are aware of its existence and those who have been tested. A recent study of girls of secondary-school age found that while 90 per cent knew something about the disease, only 20 per cent had been screened.

"There is a huge discrepancy between knowing about the disease and actively doing something," said Dr Belhoul. Students at the Dubai campus of Zayed University welcomed the idea, saying they did not know much about what thalassaemia entailed. Hanoof Hamed, a 21-year-old student, said there was little taught to them while at school: "I'll admit that I don't know much about the disease, but that is because we're not taught anything about it.

"Schools and universities should do more and be more active to educate kids on this stuff.'' nsamaha@thenational.ae