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12-15 thousand children born each year with thalassemia in BD

DHAKA, Jan 18, 2018 (BSS) - At least 12,000 to 15,000 children are born in Bangladesh every year with thalassemia, the most common congenital disorder in a human body, and the parents who carry the abnormal genes pass it to their kids.

Talking to BSS here today, eminent physician Dr Apurbo Pandit quoting Bangladesh Thalassemia Samity said at least 10 percent of the country's total population carry this disease, posing a serious threat to the public health with its current trend of rise.

The parents only come to know when a child is born with thalassaemia. There is a 25 percent chance of a child suffering from thalassaemia if the parents are carriers. "The carrier status of thalassaemia trait is about 10pc in Bangladesh, meaning there are about 16 million carriers, but presumably less than 1 percent of the population is aware of it," he said.

Putting forward a suggestion, Dr Apurbo Pandit said blood test of both the bride and the groom before marriage and discouraging marriage between close relatives could largely protect the newborns from the wrath of thalassemia. There is a wide variation in carrier status in different regions of Bangladesh with a very high frequency among the tribal people.

Also the editor of an online health journal, The amarhealth.com, Dr Pandit urged all concerned to launch a countrywide awareness drive against thalassemnia, the disease that requires regular blood transfusion resulting in excessive collection of iron in the body of the victim.

"This collection of iron is toxic causing damage to the heart, liver, pancreas and pituitary gland leading to organ failure. This iron needs to be removed by drugs which are expensive. The treatment is life-long. Bone marrow transplantation is the only cure but very costly and has many complications," he observed.

In Bangladesh, the infant mortality rate is rapidly decreasing due to targeted vaccination programmes, better health care and nutrition with the rise of per capita income resulting in more children attending hospital with genetic disorders like thalassaemia.

As thalassaemia poses demanding challenge in terms of managing with limited resources in a country like Bangladesh, awareness, screening of carriers and prevention of births of the thalassaemic children by prenatal diagnosis are important.

Experts say the role of gynaecologists and obstetricians is also important as they should advise couples to know their carrier status. Every couple in Bangladesh should be advised to have their carrier status checked before marriage or in early pregnancy.

"If anyone of the couple is positive for thalassaemia, DNA analysis should be advised with the option of abortion to the parents. DNA laboratories should be set up in every division with appropriate training facilities," Dr Pandit said.

Bangladesh has already started the screening programme in a limited scale, an encouraging step that would eventually help a lot to drop rapidly the births of thalassaemic children like the rest of the world.

Thalassemia basically means anemia, a genetic blood disease which the child could inherit if one or both of his/her parents is carrying the disease gene. The risk is higher if both parents have this disease.

Symptoms are not visible, but it can be identified through medical tests. There are various types of thalassemia, but most of the people are infected with Beta Thalassemia. Symptoms of Thalassemia are weakness, fatigue, slow growth, pale appearance, abnormal swelling, abnormal bone structure, especially in the face and skull, heart problems and iron overload.

Due to phenomenal success in the control of infectious diseases in Bangladesh, child mortality has declined by 71% as compared to that observed in the 1990s. Therefore, the genetic disorders, particularly thalassemias, are likely to be a major public health concern in the country in the coming decades.

According to the experts, the prime objective of a thalassemia prevention programme is to educate the common people as well as the health professionals about the concept and consequence of genetic disorders.

General observation shows that health professionals are a vital source of information for a thalassemia affected family. To make an effective public awareness strategy, priority should be given to educate healthcare professionals first.

Because of the young age structure of the population, thalassemia awareness focused on schools, colleges and universities had a significant impact in most developed societies and it would have the same impact in countries like Bangladesh.