UAE's mandatory pre-marital screening: New genetic test can detect diseases that are 'hard to treat'

If a shared genetic mutation is detected in a couple, consultants help them make informed decisions about their future marriage and childbearing


Sahim Salim

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Image used for illustrative purpose.
Image used for illustrative purpose.

Published: Tue 28 May 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 28 May 2024, 10:39 PM

Couples planning to get married in the UAE can undergo an optional genetic testing as part of their mandatory premarital medical examination. A top official told Khaleej Times that the genetic test detects more than 570 genetic mutations that can cause hereditary diseases such as cardiomyopathy, genetic epilepsy, spinal muscular atrophy, hearing loss, cystic fibrosis, and "other severe and chronic diseases that are difficult to treat".

Premarital medical screening is mandatory for all citizens and expatriates who plan to get married in the UAE, according to Dr Kareema Alraesi, director of Primary Health Care Department, Emirates Health Services (EHS). The genetic test is offered free of charge as part of this screening.

“It is an optional blood test that is done in addition to the mandatory premarital screenings at the couple’s request. This test examines the genetic material to detect … genetic mutations that individuals might carry without showing any symptoms. These mutations, if carried by both partners, increase the chance of their children being affected by severe, hard-to-treat genetic diseases,” she said in an interview with Khaleej Times.

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How to book service

The optional service is available at three EHS health centres: Family Health Promotion Centre in Sharjah, Julphar Health Centre in Ras Al Khaimah, and AlFaseel Family Health Promotion Centre in Fujairah.

“To avail of the service, appointments can be booked through the EHS smart app, call centre or by visiting the relevant health centre directly,” Dr Kareema said.

These centres will provide individuals with test results within two weeks. If a shared genetic mutation is detected in the couple, specialised consultants counsel them, answer their questions and suggest suitable options.

“They are directed to meet with genetic disease consultants to provide appropriate counselling and offer solutions and alternatives based on the case. The aim is … to help them make more informed decisions about their future marriage and childbearing,” the official explained.

According to Dr Essam Al Zarooni, acting executive director of Clinical Services Sector at EHS, genetic testing is a preventive measure that protects community members from genetic diseases. “This is done by identifying some inherited disease-causing genes and calculating the chances of passing them on to (their) children (and) providing appropriate solutions available when the couple wishes to proceed with marriage and parenthood.”

It helps couples prevent the transmission of genetic diseases to future generations.

Mandatory screening

Premarital screening was first launched in 2008. The medical examination ascertains whether couples are free from genetic, infectious or sexually transmitted diseases.

According to the UAE Government website, the screening includes tests for infectious diseases such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and Hepatitis B & C, syphilis; and genetic diseases such as Beta-thalassemia and sickle cell anaemia. It also checks for German Measles (Rubella).

The report is valid for three months.

The genetic test is not limited to those with a family history of genetic disorders. “It reduces mother-to-child transmissions of some infectious diseases that might lead to congenital anomalies … and sometimes death,” EHS states in an advisory about the subject.

Both partners are required to visit the same health centre to collect their premarital screening reports, and the doctor will meet with each separately.


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