Premarital screening

Premarital screening

December 18, 2015
Call to include 600 diseases in premarital tests
Call to include 600 diseases in premarital tests

DESPITE government warnings and laws that make it mandatory for couples to get screened for any genetic, infectious and blood diseases, many families ignore the results of premarital screenings and allow their daughters to get married to an infected partner. As a result, such couples drastically increase the likelihood of their offspring testing positive for diseases such as thalassemia, sickle cell anemia and a host of sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV, hepatitis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, Al-Riyadh daily reports.

The Ministry of Health has exerted great efforts to educate the general public about the dangers of marrying a partner who has hereditary or infectious diseases. The ministry conducted a study on the number of such marriages in 2015 and compared it to 2004 and noticed a decrease, which indicates its efforts are bearing fruit. However, what makes some families accept the fact that their daughters will marry unhealthy men?

Tests don’t reveal all

Umm Reham, who declined to give her full name, said she married her daughter to one of her relatives even though he was suffering from several hereditary diseases.

“My daughter married her cousin, the son of her paternal uncle. We could not turn down the offer because my husband’s brother stood by us and helped us a lot. Besides, his son was crazy about my daughter. The only downside was that the medical test came positive for some hereditary disease,” she said.

Umm Reham does not believe in premarital tests and says only Allah knows whether her future grandchildren will be born healthy or not. She cited several examples of Saudi couples who got married after their premarital tests came back negative for hereditary diseases but who still had sick children.

Sharifah, not her real name, strongly objected to Umm Reham’s casual dismissal of premarital screenings. She married her cousin, long before the government made premarital testing mandatory, and had four children with him all of whom have sickle cell anemia, which is a hereditary disease. “My children have to go to the hospital regularly. If the premarital test was required at the time when I got married and the results showed that my husband had this hereditary disease, I would not have married him,” she said.

Plan of action

Dr. Muhammad Saedi, director of the Department for Combatting Hereditary and Chronic Diseases at the Ministry of Health, said the ministry has already embarked on a plan of action to increase awareness about hereditary and infectious diseases among members of the public.

“We explain to both men and women who want to go ahead with their marriage despite the results of the tests that the treatment of some hereditary diseases are costly and a huge emotional and financial strain on any family. We also make it clear that the success rate for operations for such diseases is below 50 percent,” he said.

Dr. Saedi said the ministry distributes educational films and booklets to all 130 premarital test centers in the Kingdom. “This is a social issue; the health part constitutes 20 percent of the success of any marriage. There are other social, psychological, economic and religious grounds that should be taken into consideration when two people decide to enter a marriage,” he said, while adding the regions where sickle cell anemia and thalassemia tend to be more common have been targeted heavily. These places include Eastern Province, Aisr, Jazan and Qunfundah.

Supporting laws

Dr. Ahmad Al-Salman, a hematology and internal medicine consultant at King Fahd Hospital in Ahsa, called for enforcing laws that support premarital tests to fight hereditary diseases. The ministry cannot prevent a husband who has sickle cell anemia, for example, from getting married because there are no laws that ban these marriages. He said parents who insist on marrying their daughters to sick persons are wrong for jeopardizing the lives of their grandchildren.

Dr. Nasser Al-Zahrani, assistant professor of sociology, said children pay the price of such marriages and called on the concerned authorities to step in and prevent such marriages. He noted that most marriages where couples ignore the results of such tests tend to take place in villages and among relatives.

His advice to future brides and grooms: “Use your minds, consult experts and think seriously before taking a risky decision for which children will end up paying the ultimate price.”

December 18, 2015