Public health’s “elephant in the room”
Public health in the Middle East… we have so much to work on.
Let’s start with what it means. Public health is all about awareness (fatty foods cause diabetes and atherosclerosis, having children after 40 raises the chance of birth defects…) and prevention (screening, early diagnosis, limiting bad habits). Public health advocates respect your freedom in general, unless your actions can hurt someone else, then it’s downright war, as all the poor smokers can tell you.
But there is an “activity”, very common in the ME among all classes of society, which has potentially tragic consequences on the most vulnerable among us, and which many of us are oblivious to… Consanguinity “Marriage between cousins”.
Let’s start with the science:
The danger of marriage between relatives is that pesky “Recessive Gene”, which can cause many serious and usually fatal diseases. Luckily, those disorders are extremely rare, with the whole bundle affecting 3-4% of the population. That figure rises up to 6-7% in first cousin marriages, and to 12% if the offspring are the result of a double first marriage (as in the married couple are also offspring of first cousin marriages). This is no joke people…
10% of marriages worldwide are consanguineous, with skyrocketing percentages in our region. As we all know, the practice is encouraged in our culture. I have never seen its implications discussed before me, except for a casual racist remark I heard once in my life. Neither have I heard any attempt to raise awareness, except for my college pediatrician who shouts at villagers bringing children with heartbreaking conditions.
It’s understandable why the practice is attractive, the social benefits are vast. I also get why no government is attempting to tackle this behemoth. But wouldn’t you agree that this is a public health cause of utter importance? When the decisions of people can harm nobody except those who are closest to their heart, don’t they at least deserve to be aware about it? Is a long term goal of outright banning the practice ridiculous?
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