AL AIN // Mariam Yammahi has three children. Two have genetic abnormalities. "I would never allow my child to marry a first cousin," she says. "Not after what has happened to me." Mrs Yammahi, 26, is from a traditional family in Fujairah. Eight years ago, she and her prospective husband were screened for the most common genetic diseases at the Thalassaemia Centre in Dubai. Her first son, Abdulaziz, now seven, was born with a condition that remains unnamed. Among his ailments are an enlarged head with dangerous water retention. He also has congenital heart disease and had to have surgery for a hole in his heart. He cannot walk and his speech is only just developing.
Although she expected further complications with her second child, she was born healthy and is now five. It was her youngest, Sara, now three, who would be born with the same condition as her brother. She is deaf and refuses to use a hearing aid, which has resulted in impaired speech. The gene responsible for the problem remains unidentified. Lihadh al Gazali is researching the problem at UAE University. Dr al Gazali treats patients, and their parents, at Tawam Hospital, and works with medical experts in Saudi Arabia, Germany and at Harvard University in the United States.
The children are assessed by Dr al Gazali's team every six months. But Al Ain lacks facilities and personnel to cope with their special needs. Mrs Yammahi hopes to move to the US, where more services are available. The children of Mrs Yammahi's second cousin have the same condition, as do three of Mrs Yammahi's cousins. It is probably no coincidence that they all married cousins. The tradition, she says, is more common in more rural areas, such as Fujairah, and her new home, Al Ain, where she moved to study computer engineering at UAE University.
"Even as a teenager I was aware of the problems to do with marrying cousins, but my husband has five brothers who all married cousins and none had problems. My sister married her cousin and they had five healthy children. "People are starting to get away from cousin marriage." @Email:email@example.com