After a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative to make available dialysis machines in government hospitals, Delhi’s Health department plans to tie up with private laboratories in all districts, which will offer diagnostic facilities for pregnant women and their husbands to identify genetic traits of thalassaemia that may be passed on to the newborn.
Children born with thalassaemia have weak red blood cells (RBCs), which are prone to degeneration, making the body incapable of processing haemoglobin. With no treatment available, frequent blood transfusions remain the only possible management of the disease.
Despite one in 18 pregnant women in the capital showing traits of the disease, government hospitals in the city do not provide diagnostic checks to identify thalassaemia traits in pregnant women, according to government estimates.
The government has put out a notice, inviting labs from all 11 administrative districts of the capital for the partnership. Sources in the Health department said labs responding to the government initiative will first be screened for technology and specialists. The labs have to offer two types of tests — CBC (Complete Blood Count) and HPCL (High Performance Liquid Chromatography) or automated capillary electrophoresis tests. Only then, they will be accredited by the government.
Of these accredited labs, those providing the tests at lowest prices will be selected in every district. Under the initiative, hospitals under the Delhi government in every district will refer pregnant women to these accredited labs in their areas, where the tests will be done free of cost. The Delhi government will pay these labs every quarter.
The government also plans to start a public education initiative to inform couples about the need to undergo genetic tests to identify thalassaemia traits before marriage and conception, along with antenatal mothers, who will be tested within the first trimester of pregnancy.
“Couples with genetic traits of thalassaemia are advised against conception to avoid hereditary transmission of the disease,” an official involved with the project said. He added that the absence of genetic tests in government hospitals and statistics on the disease means that many mothers were mistakenly thought to be anaemic and administered oral or injectible iron.
“In thalassaemia patients, since the RBCs are defective, there may be severe complications, which can even be fatal. So, there is a dire need to start screening patients to identify thalassaemia patients,” he said.
The government notice states, “People within GNCT of Delhi will be informed about specific need for thalassaemia test in every pregnancy as early as possible within the first trimester and the availability of accredited labs in all districts. Public at large will be empowered to get the screening facility at uniform cost all over Delhi. The need for premarital detection of thalassaemia is also a felt need and demand will grow gradually in consonance of the awareness generation of department of GNCT of Delhi.”