Genetic disorders in Arab populations

20 October 2008

The Centre for Arab Genomic Studies (CAGS) has warned that a growing prevalence of genetic disorders in the Arab world will place greater financial strain on health systems and public health infrastructure (see UAE National news article). 

CAGS, which collects data from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Oman, reports that single-gene disorders such as sickle cell disease and thalassaemia, as well as some rarer genetic diseases, are much more common in the region than elsewhere. This increased birth prevalence is attributed to a combination of factors, including a high frequency of consanguinity (marriages between cousins and other relatives), which can increase the number of carriers of mutations associated with autosomal recessive forms of genetic disease. Another problem is a lack of public awareness about such conditions, their diagnosis, identification and prevention.

Assistant director of CAGS Dr Ghazi Tadmouri reportedly spoke in favour of wider awareness of such diseases, and of improved public health and genetics services (from pre-conceptual carrier screening programmes to prenatal and preimplantation diagnosis) commenting: “Now it is becoming mandatory to do basic screening for thalassaemia and other diseases before marriage…Of course no one would oblige partners to not marry if they were both carriers of a disease”. Earlier diagnosis was also noted to be essential to reducing mortality rates associated with genetic diseases.

Chromosomal abnormality Down Syndrome (trisomy 21) is also more common in some Arab populations, with 21.4 babies per 100,000 affected in the UAE; this is much higher than in countries such as the UK, and around double the average global rate. It has been suggested that this may be related to a “social trend to have more children until menopause” (see Hindu News article), since the risk of Down Syndrome increases significantly with maternal age.

The CAGS Catalogue of Transmission Genetics in Arabs (see previous news) is planning to widen contributions to include collection of data from Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq.

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