Pre-marital counselling a need for healthy marriage
More and more people are using the pre-marital counselling facilities available at Bahrain's health centres, the Chief of Primary Health Care in the Ministry of Health said yesterday. Speaking with the Tribune, Dr Awatif M. Sharaf said though very few people visited these clinics when the services were first offered, many more are doing so now. "It is considered our duty to inform the people in case they are ‘fit' to get married, keeping in mind genetic reasons," she said. "The fact they are counselled means that they have a choice to get married or not."
She said if they are found to be carriers of any genetic disease, they are advised against marriage. "The fact is that it depends on them whether they want to get married or not, but at least they have been counselled." Dr Awatif said while around 1,700 people visited the counselling centres in 2000, the figure rose to 2,150 the next year. "Though figures for 2002 are not yet available, it is expected that the figure would be more than that." She said the Ministry of Health was keen that these kind of diseases, particularly sickle cell anaemia and thalessemia, were wiped out from the country for the good of the society as a whole. "For this, we need to counsel as many people as possible and make them aware of the dangers, if any, that they were facing."
The Head of National Hereditary Disease Committee and Consultant Clinical Geneticist, Dr Shaikha Al Arrayed, said this was very necessary. "The problem is that many people will not even know that they are carriers till the time they have actually been tested," she said. "And when that happens, these people get married and have children, the problem is aggravated since the children also are born with the condition."
She said getting married was entirely the personal decision of an individual.
"What we are aiming at is that a couple desirous of getting married should get themselves tested and be told about the risk they were facing, if at all there was such a risk."
She said the ideal thing was to start the process in schools. "If that does not happen, it is mostly too late. After school, the students move out in society, mix up with each other and end up falling in love."
She said it did not matter then whether they are carriers or whether they are suffering from some genetic disease.
"All that they want then is to get married."
Dr Amal Al Jowder, Head of Health Education in the Ministry, however, said that was just a part of the issue. "Where will love go once the children are born with lots of problems.
The couples should themselves be mature enough to decide what is good not only for them but also for their future children."
She said this was the reason why education was important from the very beginning. "We have to make a point and tell the couple the risk they faced," she said.
"If they still wanted to get married, it was their choice but we will have done our bit." She said a drive among school students was bearing fruit over the years. "This is an important aspect of the campaign against these diseases."
Dr Shaikha said it was important that students come forward to get themselves tested.
"Since their parents' consent is necessary, they should be willing to obtain it and on their part, the parents should also be forthcoming."
She said this was an important national project in which contributions from the society will be welcome. She said a few years ago, around 200 babies with sickle cell disease were born in Bahrain every year and the figure now is 100.
"The same is the case with thalassemia with only five new babies being born every year with the condition, as compared with a large number a few years ago."
She said the incidence of the sickle cell disease in Bahrain has also declined to 1.2 per cent in newborn babies as compared with 2.1 per cent in 1986.
Last update on: 17-8-2003