Exploring the Effectiveness of Mandatory Premarital Screening and Genetic Counselling Programmes for β-Thalassaemia in the Middle East: A Scoping Review

Public Health Genomics. 2015;18(4):193-203. doi: 10.1159/000430837. Epub 2015 May 29.


Background: β-Thalassaemia is a common genetic blood disorder in the Middle Eastern region. Mandatory premarital screening and genetic counselling (PMSGC) programmes are implemented in 8 Middle East countries to reduce at-risk marriages and thus disease prevalence. A scoping review was conducted to explore the effectiveness of these programmes.

Methods: The 6-stage scoping framework of Arksey and O'Malley [Int J Soc Res Methodol 2005;8:19-32] was used. Reported outcomes were analysed per country, with success defined as achieving a 65% reduction in at-risk marriages and/or thalassaemia-affected births. Emergent enablers and barriers were analysed thematically.

Results: Twenty-one sources were included from the 1,348 identified, discussing 7 country programmes, with 95% (20/21) published during 2003-2013. Five publications each were included for Iran and Saudi Arabia, 3 for Turkey, 2 each for Bahrain and Iraq (Kurdistan), and 1 for the United Arab Emirates, plus 2 multi-country evaluations. No programme achieved a 65% at-risk marriage cancellation rate. Though data on thalassaemia-affected birth reductions were minimal, programmes in Iran, Turkey and Iraq reported at least 65% reductions. A thematic analysis found that screening timing, access to prenatal detection and abortion, socio-religious issues, awareness and counselling affected decisions.

Conclusion: This review found that PMSGC programmes were unsuccessful in discouraging at-risk marriages but successful in reducing the prevalence of affected births in countries providing prenatal detection and therapeutic abortion. A life cycle approach to prevention, incorporation of school screening, awareness campaigns, reconsideration of therapeutic abortion, and screening and counselling of couples married prior to programme inception are likely to improve the effectiveness of such programmes in the Middle Eastern region.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Therapeutic / statistics & numerical data
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Genetic Counseling / statistics & numerical data*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Genetic Testing / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Education / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marriage / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mediterranean Region / epidemiology
  • Middle East / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis / statistics & numerical data
  • Prenatal Education / methods
  • Prevalence
  • Program Evaluation*
  • Risk Assessment
  • beta-Thalassemia / epidemiology*
  • beta-Thalassemia / genetics
  • beta-Thalassemia / prevention & control*