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Thalassaemia in Britain: a tale of two communities

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 19 September 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:761

Births are rising among British Asians but falling in Cypriots

  1. Paramjit S Gill (, Senior lecturer,
  2. Bernadette Modell, Professor of community genetics
  1. Department of General Practice, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT
  2. Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences, Royal Free Hospital and University College London School of Medicine, Whittington Hospital, London N19 5NF

    General practice p 788

    The thalassaemias are recessively inherited haemoglobin disorders with profound implications for individuals, families, and health services.1 In the United Kingdom they occur mainly in certain minority ethnic communities, but prevalence varies within these communities. Around 3-10% of Indians, 4.5% of Pakistanis, 8% of Bangladeshis, 17% of Cypriots, 0.5-1% of Afro-Caribbeans, and 0.1% of the indigenous British carry thalassaemia.2 Carrier couples have a one in four chance in every pregnancy of having a child with a major thalassaemia. Unlike some other genetic disorders, the thalassaemias are common and manageable, requiring, as a minimum, regular blood transfusions and iron chelation treatment to prevent iron overload. The cost of supporting a patient from birth to 30 years is estimated at about £250 000.3 Haemoglobin disorders can be prevented by carrier screening and genetic counselling, with the option of …

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