(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) The Ministry of Health (MoH) has raised concerns about the high prevalence of genetic diseases in the Omani community. Morbidity and mortality statistics for newborns and children show that while communicable diseases have been successfully controlled, preventive measures for genetic disorders are still in the preparatory phase, the MoH's Eighth Five-Year Plan report states.
A senior MoH official said the prevalence of handicapped children and the increasing number of children affected with genetic disorders are putting a strain on the country's healthcare services.
''Intellectual disabilities comprise 37 per cent of genetic disorders. Isolated physical disabilities comprise 44 per cent, congenital deafness and blindness 10.30 per cent, genetic blood disorders 15 per cent, congenital anomalies 13.30 per cent, and anomalies of metabolism and rare disorders six per cent. Learning difficulties and others comprise eight, and seven per cent, respectively,'' she said.
She said that intellectual and physical disabilities such as those due to neurodegenerative diseases or congenital blindness, deafness or malformations have a long-term impact on public health. ''Necessary measures must be taken as the number of disabled people may increase five to ten times in the next 50 years.''
According to the latest statistics with MoH, around ten per cent of Omanis are carriers of the sickle cell anaemia gene and three per cent of the beta-thalassaemia gene. Approximately 120 children are born every year with sickle cell anaemia and 20 with beta-thalasseaemia. ''In the next ten years, the numbers are expected to increase to 1,200 cases of sickle cell anaemia and 200 cases of thalassaemia.''
The official said that one of the objectives of MoH is the expansion of pre-marital examination to reduce the prevalence of genetic diseases. ''Our target is to reduce the percentage of newborns with genetic diseases or congenital malformation to five per cent from the current ten per cent.'' The ministry also aims to bring down the rate of sickle cell anaemia cases by fifty per cent and the rate of moderate to severe mental retardation among children below the age of 15 years from five per cent to two per cent by 2015.
According to data from MoH, 40 per cent of secondary schools in Oman currently have genetic education in their curricula. ''Our target is to increase it to 100 per cent by 2015,'' she said, adding that it is required for increasing literacy among people.
The newly established National Genetics Centre will provide clinical and laboratory diagnostic services to people, with provision of clinical genetic consultation in all regions of the country. ''This will help in having high-quality prevention programmes.'' The centre would also have a DNA storage facility.
Other strategies by the ministry to tackle genetic disorders include establishment of a special clinic in each governorate to provide pre-marital examination services.
''We also aim to educate the Omani population about the impact of genetic diseases
and thereby decrease the rate of consanguineous marriage among families with history of genetic diseases,'' the offici