Saudi in drive to curb endogamy

Figure includes 20.7 million Saudis and 10.1 million expatriates. (Supplied)

Saudi Arabia has intensified efforts to curb widespread endogamy which is blamed for a sharp rise in genetic disease in the Gulf Kingdom, according to experts.

A government-sponsored programme dubbed “healthy marriage” reports substantial progress in a campaign to discourage relatives from marrying each other despite prevailing social traditions which encourage such marriages.

The programme says it has tested around 3.25 million Saudis seeking to marry relatives since it was founded 11 years ago and that it succeeded in persuading at least 60 per cent of them not to go ahead with the marriage.

“In the beginning, the response was below eight per cent…we are now encouraged to reach a response rate of 100 per cent,” said Dr Ayman Al Suleiman, a genetic researcher and consultant at King Faisal Hospital in the capital Riyadh.

“The problem is that in Saudi Arabia, we have genetic diseases which no other country has…the Kingdom has one of the highest genetic disease rates in the world, estimated at one per 1,000…this compares with one per 4,000 in the United States and one per 8,000 in Japan…this means the ratio of genetic diseases in Saudi Arabia is almost eight times that of Japan,” he told Saudi TV.

Suleiman said he conducted a survey in 2004 showing endogamy in Saudi Arabia was around 53 per cent, adding that it has now increased to 67 per cent.

“There should be intensified efforts to curb marriages within relatives…in this respect, I suggest compulsory pre-marriage medical tests.”

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