Thalassemia syndromes are among the most serious and common genetic conditions. They are indigenous in a wide but specific geographical area. However, through migration they are spreading across regions not previously affected. Thalassemias are caused by mutations in the α (HBA1/HBA2
) and β globin (HBB
) genes and are usually inherited in an autosomal recessive manner. The corresponding proteins form the adult hemoglobin molecule (HbA) which is a heterotetramer of two α and two β globin chains. Thalassemia-causing mutations lead to an imbalanced globin chain production and consecutively to impaired erythropoiesis. The severity of the disease is largely determined by the degree of chain imbalance. In the worst case, survival is dependent on regular blood transfusions, which in turn cause transfusional iron overload and secondary multi-organ damage due to iron toxicity. A vigorous monitoring and treatment regime is required, even for the milder syndromes. Thalassemias are a major public health issue in many populations which many health authorities fail to address. Even though comprehensive care has resulted in long-term survival and good quality of life, poor access to essential components of management results in complications which increase the cost of treatment and lead to poor outcomes. These requirements are not recognized by measures such as the Global Burden of Disease project, which ranks thalassemia very low in terms of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), and fails to consider that it ranks highly in the one to four-year-old age group, making it an important contributor to under-5 mortality. Thalassemia does not fulfil the criteria to be accepted as a target disease for neonatal screening. Nevertheless, depending on the screening methodology, severe cases of thalassemia will be detected in most neonatal screening programs for sickle cell disease. This is very valuable because: (1) it helps to prepare the affected families for having a sick child and (2) it is an important measure of secondary prevention.
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