JEDDAH – It costs the Health Ministry more than half a million riyals a year to provide treatment to one patient with genetic disease, while the Ministry of Labor and Social Development spends between SR70,000 and SR80,000 annually on a child with disabilities resulting from such diseases.
President of the Saudi Society of Medical Genetics Zuhair Rahbini hoped that greater awareness about the dangerous consequences of consanguineous marriages and inbreeding would bring down the high incidence of genetic diseases in Saudi Arabia in coming years. Speaking to Al-Watan daily, Rahbni said persistent inbreeding is 100 responsible for the unrestrained growth of genetically transmitted diseases in the Kingdom.
He said scientific studies conducted by Riyadh’s King Saud University recently have shown that the rate of consanguineous marriages is 90 percent higher in rural areas of the Kingdom than major cities, which confirms that health education and awareness programs about hereditary diseases did not contribute to any reduction in this social phenomenon, which is the primary cause of genetic diseases that cost families and the state millions of riyals in terms of treatment.
“Since the issuance of the Royal Decree in 2004 that made premarital blood screening mandatory in the Kingdom, 90 percent of all would-be couples know the kind of defective genes common among partners and the greater possibility of transferring those genes to their children, yet they proceed with the marriage,” Rahbini said.
However, Health Ministry statistics showed that the rate of couples going ahead with their marriage plans even after discovering they both carry the same defective genes dropped by between 40 and 50 percent last year compared to the previous year.
At the same time, current studies indicate that marriage between close blood relatives is still about 56 percent in major cities of the Kingdom such as Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, which is a very high ratio and is close to figures recorded in several other Arab countries, including Sudan and Yemen.
Rahbini pointed out that there is a significant shortcoming in educational institutions with respect to adding curriculum that is purely aimed at warning students of the dangers of marrying close blood relatives. This is one of the reasons why people do not know that such marriages raise by multiple times the chances of them transmitting to their offspring diseases running in the family and that such diseases do not have any cure even when individuals and the state have to spend significantly huge amounts to manage them.