Pakistan and German study concludes, “Cousin marriages are the cause of 50% infant mortality in the country.”

According to Pakistan and German medical experts, 50% of infant mortality is linked to the high rate of consanguinity – cousin marriages. The genetic disorders declared by these rates have paved the wave of a silent pandemic across the country. Recently, a symposium was arranged by the Children’s Hospital Lahore to present a joint study conducted. The symposium was sponsored by the German government and the Arcensus Institute (Germany). It was organized at the Anne Marie Schimmel Institute on The Mall with the theme “Genetic Matters to Everyone.”

The Culprit – Cousin and Same Caste Marriages

Senior medics from Germany attended the symposium and pointed out an alarmingly high rate of genetic disorders among the local population. The medics have stated that the consanguinity rate is the highest in rural areas, ranging from 78% to 100%. The head of the Department of Pediatric Gastroenterology of Children’s Hospital Lahore, Prof Huma Arshad Cheema, explained:

We have performed tests on 30,000 families, including children, in all four provinces of the country and Islamabad. The results show over 70pc of them were carriers. Country-wide investigations were launched into the burden of the diseases related to various genetic disorders.

Speaking to a media outlet, the professor stated:

The study has highlighted that cousin and same-caste marriages are wreaking havoc by increasing the number of children with disabilities in Pakistan. I am not against cousin marriage or marriage in the same cast, but I would strongly suggest taking a doctor’s advice for risk assessment before making such decisions. The pre-marriage screening tests should be declared mandatory. Unfortunately, there is no facility for testing patients for any genetic disease in the country. Access to diagnosis is limited as genetic testing is highly expensive, and no public sector hospital offers free testing for genetic diseases in Pakistan.

Further studies are being conducted

A leading private hospital in Karachi is sending blood samples to a foreign country to diagnose any genetic disorder. Similarly, two private hospitals in Lahore are also availing the same facility abroad, she says, adding that each test costs Rs. 300,000, which is highly expensive. Prof Huma says:

We provided this facility to the patients free of cost and have done tests on 300,000 individuals from all over the country. The tests are being performed in collaboration with German partners Prof Arndt Rolfs and Prof Peter Beur at Arcensus and the Centogene (Germany). The results were alarming as over 70% of them carried some genetic disorder linked to diseases like cancer and liver, kidney and neurological ailments, etc. If preventive measures are not taken and awareness is not created at public and private sector hospitals, we will be heading toward a disaster.

Prof Huma further stated:

The joint team of senior doctors from Germany and Pakistan set up camps at Children’s Hospital Lahore, besides facilities at Multan, Islamabad, Karachi, and other parts of the country, to examine such patients. In Lahore’s Children’s Hospital, we examined nearly 200 families, including children, since March 20. The pregnancy screening and other tests showed over 50% of them were careers of genetic diseases.

Concluding the statement, she said:

Pakistan has a huge burden of genetic diseases due to the high rate of consanguinity. The quoted rate of consanguinity [in Pakistan] ranges from 78% to even 100% in some rural areas. It is estimated that genetic diseases in Pakistan cause 50% of mortality in infancy. There is a need for adopting a multi-pronged approach to raise awareness, improve diagnostic facilities, and access to treatment and prenatal diagnosis of genetic diseases.

Hopes of Progress with the Symposium

Arcensus Chief Executive Officer Prof Rolfs also addressed the symposium and spoke about the impact of genetic disorders and the measures taken for prevention in Pakistan. He said:

The cooperation between Pakistani hospitals and Arcensus is not new. Over the last year, Arcensus has diagnosed genetic disorders in more than 2,000 Pakistani children with the help of an advanced genetic testing technique called Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) free of cost to help them and their families live a better life. As Arcensus CEO and founder, I believe this symposium is only the beginning of even closer cooperation.

University of Child Health Sciences Vice-Chancellor Prof Masood Sadiq announced that he was going to approve the establishment of a genetic institute at the varsity. He highlighted the huge donations being given to the liver unit of the Children’s Hospital Lahore to treat such patients.

Cricket legend Misbah ul Haq also attended the symposium and spoke to the affected families. He has vowed to become an ambassador for raising awareness about the issue. Experts are encouraging others to come forward and participate in raising awareness and helping the country make significant progress in terms of health.

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