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Govt should make screening of couples mandatory: docs

City doctors want the government to adopt universal testing for thalassaemia minor traits for couples to prevent births of thalassaemia major children.

mumbai Updated: May 08, 2012 01:44 IST
Menaka Rao

City doctors want the government to adopt universal testing for thalassaemia minor traits for couples to prevent births of thalassaemia major children.

Patients of thalassaemia, a genetic blood disorder, need frequent blood transfusions. Thalassaemia minor traits are more prevalent among communities such as Sindhis, Kutchis, Lohanas, Bhanushalis, Punjabis, Mahars, Agris and Gowdas.

“In high-risk states, such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Delhi, the government should implement screening programmes for prevention of thalassaemia births. Thalassaemia trait screening of pregnant women in these states should be compulsorily advised,” said Dr Rashid Merchant, consultant pediatrician, Nanavati Hospital.

Non-profits such as Think Foundation, which screens for thalaessaemia minor, said that screening should be done before marriage or even during a blood test. “Labs that do blood tests can advise patients with low red blood corpuscles and haemoglobin to be screened for thalassaemia trait,” said Vinay Shetty, founder, Think Foundation.

Doctors said that the government could adopt the ‘opt-out’ policy used to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child, which has now reduced to 5% to 10%, for thalassaemia as well. “The policy makes it mandatory for gynaecologists to advise a HIV test to a pregnant woman. The woman can ‘opt out’ if she doesn’t wish to be tested,” said Dr Mamata Manglani, head of paediatrics, Sion Hospital.

In case both parents are thalassaemia minors, the foetus can be tested for thalassaemia major traits in 10 to 12 weeks of pregnancy. “We can inform them if the child is thalassaemia major. They have the option to abort the foetus before 20 weeks of pregnancy,” said Dr Merchant.

In the past 30 years, initiatives by doctors have helped control and almost eradicate mother-to-child transmission of diseases such HIV, congenital syphilis and RH (rhesus) incompatibility (if the mother is RH negative and child is RH positive).