Sheikh Hamdan Award for Medical Sciences holds symposium on the “role of media in Genetic Literacy"
The “3RD Pan Arab Human Genetics Conference” Concluded its activities by holding a symposium entitled "the Role of Media in Genetic Literacy in the Arab World” at “Al-Bustan Rotana Hotel in Dubai. The symposium was organized by “Center for Arab Genomic Studies” affiliated to Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Medical Sciences. The symposium was attended by geneticists from 36 Arab and foreign countries, many students from UAE medical faculties, in addition to a number of media persons. Dr. "Mohammad Afzal" WHO’s Regional Adviser for Research Policy and Cooperation in the Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean attended the symposium.
Prof. "Najib Al Khaja" Secretary-General of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Medical Sciences and President of the Conference said that holding such symposium is considered a part from the social role of “Center for Arab Genomic Studies” in genetic literacy. This year’s conference was not only an event to discuss the latest genetic research in the Arab World, but also highlighted the role of media in genetic literacy.
The symposium hosted Dr. "Hanan Hamamy" professor of human genetics Department of Medical Genetics and Development at Geneva University Hospital, Switzerland, Mr. "Jamal Al-Bah" President of “Arab Family Organization” and Dr. "Ali Singel" producer and presenter of "vitamin" talk show on Dubai TV. The symposium was moderated by Dr. "Tarek Al-Abyad" TV host and producer of the medical bulletin at Al-Jazeera TV. The Symposium was in Arabic with English interpretation.
Dr. "Hanan Hamamy" said that Arabs have more than 1000 genetic disorders, although many countries such as Sweden have only 60 to 70 genetic disorders. However, a genetic disorder is considered as a burden on individual and society, it is the only tool to determine gene function in the human body which will pave the way to map Arab Human Genome and to develop genetic therapy in Arab Countries.
She added that besides the purely environmental disorders such as influenza and diarrhea, there are purely genetic disorders such as Down syndrome in which the number of chromosomes of the affected child is not normal. There are also genetic disorders with overlapping environmental and genetic factors together, such as asthma, congenital heart defects and schizophrenia.
The UAE issued the first law of its kind in all Arab Countries, concerning the necessity of premarital examinations for Emiratis. Mr. "Jamal Al-Bah" said that he faced extreme difficulties while calling for passing the law, through his work as director-general of the Marriage Fund from 1993 to 2005. He faced a wide range of criticism, either from media or from decision-makers in the UAE, but he succeeded after years of hard work to contact officials and convince them of the importance of issuing the law.
Mr. "Jamal Al-Bah" referred to efforts exerted by the Marriage Fund for preparing the community to accept the issuance of such law. The Marriage Fund developed an action plan for arranging meetings with opinion leaders in UAE to convince them of the importance of law. A series of seminars for universities and schools students were organized with the attendance of religious scholars to clarify that teachings of Islam are not incompatible with premarital analyses. He added that the law is considered a defense line for youths in the UAE from serious disorders such as AIDS and hepatitis.
Dr "Ali Singel" the presenter of "vitamin" talk show on Dubai TV referred to the lack of medical programs in Arabic visual media. He added that the aim of medical programs is not only to display health problems in society, but also to influence behaviors of the public opinion. Achieving such goal requires a good selection of programs themes and a usage of simple and quiet language. He added that media person should have a good background and statistics that reinforce his message. Dr. "Singel" added that the task of media persons becomes more difficult whenever it aims at changing public attitudes in Arab Countries such as consanguinity.
Mr. "Abdullah bin Souqat" Executive Director of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Award for Medical Sciences and chairperson of the organizing committee, dealt with the importance of laws, national programs and public policies in the community to put a limit to the spread of genetic disorders in Arab societies. He added that the only way to achieve this goal is through better communication between scientists and decision makers.
Dr. “Ghazi Tadmoury" Assistant Director of the “Center for Arab Genomic Studies” said that out of every 100 births in the Arab countries there are 7 genetic patients, which is more than their counterparts in Western countries. He added that one of the main reasons for the spread of genetic disorders in Arab countries is the proliferation of consanguineous marriages. 50% of genes in a human cell come from mother and 50% from father. The disorder occurs when both the mother and the father has the gene that causes a genetic disorder. He added that educating the community about the seriousness of these disorders and the importance of premarital diagnoses needs a large dose of awareness, not only for public but also for primary care physicians.
Dr. "Aida AL-Aqeell" professor of genetics at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Saudi Arabia has noted to the genetic disorders that interfere with environmental factors. She said that controlling such disorders through controlling the environmental factors is possible. For example the holder of the gene that causes obesity could be okay if he was being on diet and exercise. This shows the importance of genetic counseling, which is one way of prevention from these disorders.
There were two opinions in the symposium. One of them has found that there is negligence on media for genetic literacy. Dr. "Moein Kanaan" professor of molecular genetics at the University of Bethlehem in Palestine said that every year there are 8 million new born suffer from genetic disorder,4 million of them live for many years. Media has to teach people how to incorporate them into society.
The other opinion has been expressed by "Hend" a student in Dubai Medical College for Girls. She said: "Enough talk about media. Everyone in the community has to play his role to put a limitation for the spread of genetic disorders. Efforts of everyone should be coordinated to educate all segments of society how to avoid more affected new born”.