ABU DHABI // More than 56,000 people preparing for marriage have been tested for genetic and infectious disorders since Abu Dhabi health chiefs introduced premarital screening and counselling four years ago.
The programme offers couples testing for conditions such as HIV-Aids, Hepatitis B and C and syphilis, and for genetic blood disorders such as Beta-thalassaemia and sickle-cell haemoglobin.
Screening is important in reducing the prevalence of genetic disorders in children, said Dr Farida Al Hosani of the Health Authority Abu Dhabi.
“The programme is aimed at promoting and ensuring healthy reproductive opportunities for couples. We encourage couples to meet a physician who can address any health concerns before marriage.
“Genetic diseases can be reduced in future generations by testing the couple before marriage and providing them with the proper counselling.”
Of the 56,226 men and women screened between April 2011, when the programme began, and December last year, half were UAE nationals.
Last year 16,247 people were tested, and 342 were found to be Beta-thalassaemia carriers, eight had sickle-cell anaemia, 205 were sickle-cell anaemia carriers, 36 had syphilis and 140 tested positive for hepatitis B.
“Society is changing and people are more aware than before about screenings,” said Dr Fady Hachem, a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Burjeel Hospital.
Everyone should go through premarital screening even if their intended spouse was not a relation, he said.
“Screenings check for various diseases and it’s better to have pre-marital counselling in case there is a problem.
“In the Emirati population, there is a high level of consanguinity – too many marriages within the family – and this increases the risk of a genetic disorder.”
The tests are free for Emiratis with a Thiqa card. Screening is not covered by health insurance for expatriates, who are required to pay.