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The term thalassaemia was derived from the Greek word “thalassa” meaning the ocean as the patients were initially identified along the coast of Mediterranean Sea by leading scientists Lee & Cooley in 1925. Thalassaemia is an inherited genetic blood disorder where the patients cannot produce adequate healthy haemoglobin resulting in a need for continual blood transfusion. The blood, which saves their lives, creates an iron overload in the system. The excess iron must be chelated out of their system. The process is both painful and costly.
Who inherits
A Thalassaemia patient may be born only when both the parents of the patient are carriers of this disease. The carriers are people who carry one good gene and a defective one. Because the good gene compensates for the defective ones, a carrier acts and carries on like a normal person.
But when two carriers produce a child there is 25% probability that both their defective genes combine to give birth to a Thalassaemia patient.
The need of the hour is to prevent marriage between such carriers or ensure that after marriage , through pre-natal diagnosis, no Thalassaemia child is born.
Prevalence – the concern
In India, the Thalassaemia trait carrier accounts for around 4%. However the status varies amongst various ethnic groups and it is observed that the carrier status can go up to 17%. This means that one out of every 8 to 10 persons in India is a victim of Thalassaemia. Therefore, if ignorance about Thalassaemia is not eradicated fast, there is sure to be an epidemic.