(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) Oman has a higher prevalence of consanguineous marriages compared to most Arab countries. This high percentage (52 per cent) is the main cause of congenital disorders among children, according to data from Sultan Qaboos University (SQU).
According to the data provided by M Mazharul Islam, assistant professor at SQU's department of mathematics and statistics, Oman is sixth after Sudan (63.3 per cent), Iraq (57.8 per cent), Saudi Arabia (56 per cent), Kuwait (54.3per cent) and Qatar (54 per cent) when it comes to consanguineous marriages. The rate is 40.2 per cent in urban areas and 34.1 per cent in rural areas.
Islam said, ''Data shows that the rate of consanguineous marriages in Oman is higher than observed in most Arab countries including Egypt (21 per cent), Morocco (22.8 per cent), Algeria (34 per cent ), Syria (35.4 per cent), Lebanon (37.8 per cent), Tunisia (39.3 per cent), Bahrain (43.1 per cent), Yemen (44.7 per cent), Mauritania (47.2 per cent), Jordan (48.1per cent), Libya (48.4 per cent) and the UAE (50.5 per cent), but lower than Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Sudan.
''Their prevalence is highest in the least developed Dhofar governorate and lowest in Muscat, which is the most developed governorate,'' he said.
Dhofar registered 61 per cent of such marriages, followed by Sharqiyah with 60 per cent and Muscat with 46 per cent. Islam said marriages between first cousins show the same pattern. ''However, marriages between other degrees of relations is highest in Muscat (19.1 per cent) and lowest in Dhahirah (5.9 per cent).''
He added, ''Unions between first cousins were the most common type of consanguineous unions, constituting 39 per cent of all marriages and 75 per cent of all consanguineous marriages. About 11 per cent of the marriages are polygynous.''
All consanguineous marriages appear to be higher among women in the 15-19 year age group, and women from Batinah and Muscat are 23-27 per cent less likely to go for such wedlocks compared to those from other governorates.
Three-fourths of married women in the age group 20-44 years were married by the age of 20, with the average age of first marriage being 16 years.
''However, the age of first marriage is gradually increasing,'' Islam said, education and employment of women may further bring down the number of teenage marriages.
According to Islam, several studies have demonstrated that consanguineous marriages lead to a higher risk of autosomal recessive diseases and congenital malformations, mental retardation, higher pre-reproductive deaths and post-natal mortality among children.
''Clinical studies in the sultanate have shown that consanguinity plays a role in the frequency of haemoglobinopathies, hydrocephalus, Hirschsprung's disease and posterior urethral valves,'' said Islam.
He further revealed that a Nizwa Hospital-based study showed higher risk of congenital disorder among children of consanguineous couples than those of non-consanguineous couples. The risk of disfigurement and hepatitis is over two times higher among children from consanguine parents.
''Miscarriage is more likely to be associated with genetic causes and therefore, it could be higher among consanguineous group of women,''