BAHRAIN'S experience in the prevention of sickle cell disease has been presented at an international conference in Accra, Ghana.
Consultant geneticist and head of the Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC) genetics department Dr Shaikha Al Arrayed, who represented Bahrain at the First Global Congress on Sickle Cell Disease, spoke about Bahrain winning the war against the potentially deadly disease after a 70 per cent fall in cases.
She said the incidence of babies born with the genetic blood disorder was now only 0.6 per cent of births, compared with 2.1pc in 1985, 1.3pc in 1991 and 1pc in 2000.
The conference, held under the theme 'Sickle Cell Disease, 1910-2010: 100 Years of Science, Still Seeking Global Solutions', was co-organised by the management of Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Sickle Cell Disease International Organisation and the Global Sickle Cell Research Network.
"Bahrain's efforts at preventing sickle cell disease have been recognised worldwide but we still have a problem with management," Dr Al Arrayed told the GDN.
"The great strides we have taken have resulted in virtually eliminating new cases, so now we have to shore up our management practices and procedures."
She said the infection rates started to fall after Bahrain introduced the compulsory screening process for couples intending to get married five years ago.
Dr Al Arayyed also said sickle cell patients in Bahrain had one of the longest life expectancies in the world, with the average age of patients being 45, which compared favourably to 40 in the US and only around five years in some parts of Africa.
She said the screening process involved couples providing blood samples before they marry to learn whether they were carriers of hereditary genes that cause blood disorders, such as sickle cell anaemia and thalassaemia.
If both the man and woman are carriers of such genes, there is a higher chance of their children suffering from the disorders. She said available evidence suggests congenital and genetic disorders are responsible for a major proportion of infant mortality, morbidity and cases of handicap.
Around 18,000 people in Bahrain are living with the disease, which has already killed 22 people this year.