Ban on private cord blood centres likely Filed on March 23, 2007

DUBAI — A ban on private cord blood centres is imminent as regulations in this regard are being readied, health officials have said.

"Two private cord blood centres were recently shut down by the Department of Health and Medical Services (Dohms) as part of the government's plan to ban all such centres operating in the country," said an official, adding that other such centres will also face the axe soon.

Nearly two months ago, the Dubai-based representative offices of cord blood collection, Future Health and Smart Cells, were partially shut down by Dohms because they were found to be transporting samples of stored cells from umbilical cords 'illegally' to the United Kingdom, said a Dohms official.

Dr Cherie Daly, Manager for the Middle East Region for Smart Cells, said, "About two months ago, we were told to close our offices until further regulations were announced which, we were told, would be done within two weeks. But two months have passed and we still have no information."

She added that the UK-based Smart Cells which has a sales and marketing office in Dubai had acquired a trade licence from the Department of Economic Development (DED) and was operating in the UAE for the past three years.

"We have a laboratory in the UK which has been accredited by the UK Health Department where we carry out tests from blood collected from all over the world," she explained.

She also said it was easier to operate from Dubai as people who were interested could visit the offices and understand the idea.

"At present, we are practically in a state of limbo. We will soon have to reach a point where we have to decide whether we should stay open or not because the expenses are increasing drastically," she added.

A representative of Future Health said that they were in talks with the Ministry of Health officials.

Monetary benefit

The Head of Dubai Blood Cord and Research Centre (DCRC) and Specialist Molecular Sematology, Dr Laila Al Shaer, on the other hand, said such centres were only carrying out blood collections for monetary benefit.

"The MoH is working on a total ban on such centres which will be in place soon following criticism by experts and demands from various quarters that sensitive issues like storage of blood for future use should be handled only by the government," she explained. "We are not targeting companies, but humanitarian issues need to be taken into account," she added.

She explained that were no clear guidelines in the country regarding this matter at present. “Private companies such as these basically do not have storage facilities and therefore, they have to send samples overseas,” said Dr Al Shaer.

She said cells need to be processed within 36 hours. “These companies, however, wait to collect enough samples and send them for storage only once a week. Besides, there is a 40 per cent chance that these samples are rejected and if they have already been sent abroad, how can this issue be verified?” “All the procedures are in a way illegal,” she said.

Experts said such companies were not providing important information to donors while they might also not be opting for genetic testing before collecting the blood.

Abdulla Saeed Al Falasi, Head of Health Care Facilities Controlling Unit Specifications and Licensing Department at Dohms, said, "The closure of these blood centres was a big issue and, at present, it is being handled by the Director-General of Dohms himself."

Though unable to give statistics on the number of such centres in Dubai, Al Falasi said the centres obtained licenses from the DED or from other emirates. "Once regulations are in place, we will have an exact number of centres in the emirate."


Asma Ali Zain

Associated with KT for 15 years. Covers health issues, Pakistan community, human interest stories as well as general topics for daily news or features.

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