Pakistan is among the top 20 countries in the world with the highest infant mortality rate.
Though over the years, Pakistan has cut the mortality rate to an average of 57.99 per 1,000, the number is still high. In this regard, Pakistani and German health experts have conducted a major study in which they called the prevalence of the genetic disorder among children ‘a silent epidemic’, which must be curtailed at a war footing. They say that half of all neonatal deaths are largely due to cousin marriages. The study was carried out by senior doctors from the Children’s Hospital of Lahore and Germany, which also identified an unusual rate of genetic disorders. Prof. Dr. Huma Arshad Cheema, head of the Department of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Children’s Hospital, Lahore, says that so far we have tested 30,000 families, including children, in the four provinces of the country and in the federal capital. Of the tested people, more than 70 per cent were found infected with genetic diseases transmitted to them through intra-family marriages. German neurologist Prof. Dr. Arndt Rolfs, who is also part of the study, says they found about 16 million people, mostly children, in Pakistan suffering from any form of a rare genetic disorder. The worrying data on the individuals living with rare genetic disorders emerged from conducting tests in cities like Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Multan and Lahore. Later on, to discuss the disturbing facts, doctors sat at the symposium titled ‘Genetics Matters to Everyone’ and raised awareness among the doctors and the members of the public. This is indeed a fantastic step towards finding solutions to the ‘silent pandemic’ of genetic diseases often caused by the high rate of consanguinity in Pakistan.
It should be noted that in most of the Islamic countries of the world, including Pakistan, marriage between family or close relatives is preferred, however, a screening test before such marriage is also banned in these countries, though Pakistan has not imposed any such ban. The fact remains that there is no mechanism for diagnosing people with genetic diseases in the country and this facility is not available in most government hospitals.
Researchers have warned that if genetic disorders are not addressed in a timely manner, their spread will be difficult. It is hoped that health officials in the federation and the four provinces will take urgent steps to curb the silent epidemic, while pre-marital screening tests will also be made mandatory.