Prenatal care has decreased infant mortality rate to a great extent but infant deaths due to genetic disorders among UAE nationals have shot up sharply.
According to researchers, the main reason for this is the high rate of consanguinity.
The infant mortality rate a decade ago was just one-third the current level, said Dr Yousef M. Abdulrazzaq, Vice Dean at the Faculty of Medicines and Health Sciences (FMHS) at the UAE University (UAEU).
"The UAE has a high incidence of single gene defects accounting for a high rate of autosomal (pertaining to chromosome other than the one that determines sex) recessive disorders. This is related to the high rate of consanguineous marriages."
Speaking at a press conference, Dr Abdulrazzaq, also an Associate Professor at the Paediatrics Department of the FMHS, said the rate of consanguineous marriages among nationals has been as high as 51 per cent. The rate of major congenital abnormalities at birth is 22 in 1,000 live births. "This is an under-estimate as many are detected later."
The FMHS houses the national registry for monitoring genetic disorders in the country. Established by the Ministry of Health, it registers all babies born with congenital abnormalities.
Research on congenital abnormalities is also one of the seven priority subjects at the FMHS as genetic disorders are given importance nationally, he said.
The registry gives researchers an idea of how prevalent genetic disorders are.
The Genetics Group at the faculty is also a member of International Clearinghouse for Birth Defects Monitoring System, an organization to which all genetic diseases from member counties are reported.
Dr Abdulrazzaq said the Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award recently established the Centre for Arab Genomic Studies to bring together geneticists and research scientists from different Arab countries.
"These researchers are working for a common goal of identifying genetic disorders, studying the demography of these diseases, performing research on prevention of genetic disorders and finding treatment for these problems.
"A separate fund has also been constituted to encourage scientists to do research in this field."
He also announced the holding of the First International Genetics Congress next month in Dubai. The three-day event will open on December 9.
The congress will be organised by the Genetics Research Group from the FMHS. Sheikh Hamdan Award for Medical Sciences is a major sponsor of the event.
He said a number of internationally renowned scientists will give lectures on different aspects of the genetic disorders and their treatments.
The congress will also be attended by more than 350 participants from 30 different countries.
A total of 52 oral presentations and 117 poster presentations will be made at the gathering.