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“Relative Marriages Causing Heart Congenital Diseases among Children in Yemen,” Saudi Medical Team says

  Written By: Abdul Rahim Al-Showthabi ( YEMEN POST STAFF)
  Article Date: August 25, 2008 


Head of the Saudi medical mission Dr. Huaida Al-Kathami, currently visiting Yemen, said that relative marriage in Yemen attributes greatly to heart congenital defects among children in Yemen.

In a press conference, Chief of the Cordial Surgery Department at Prince Sultan's Hospital, Dr. Al-Kathami warned of the dangerous signs of heart defects among children in Yemen, calling  on Yemenis to stop relative marriages before matters get worse.

The Saudi medical team, currently at Al-Thawra Hospital in Sana'a, received 300 heart congenital malformation cases during the first week alone. The medical team found that the primary cause of birth defect illness among children is from relative marriages. "If a man who carries a disease marries a woman who also carries the same disease, the result could be a reason for giving birth to a sick child," the Saudi medical team's chief said.

Relative marriages are a recognized and common practice in Yemen. Many studies have suggested strong association between first cousin marriages and heart congenital malformation.

"More efforts are needed to make Yemenis understand the dangers of relative marriages, and we should therefore give extra attention to those who have low education, for them being a major reason for the spread of relative marriage, along with people who have extreme cultural backgrounds," said team's head Dr. Al-Kathami.

Relative marriages in Yemen are influenced by demographic, religious, cultural, and socio-economic factors. High rates of relative marriages were witnessed in areas with weak economy, low education, and among rural area residents.

Many reports revealed that relative marriages also have a negative effect on reproduction infant mortality.

Health experts emphasize on the need to teach the public about the risks of relative marriages on children, adding that relatives have to know the importance of pre-marriage consulting when insisting to marry each other.

In rural areas, people still consider such marriages as blood marriage, as they bear in mind that if they marry their daughter to a man who is not from their family, they bring an unfamiliar member to their ethnic group. This is done as families feel that marrying their daughter to a close relative will be an easier change for the young girl, as she will go to a family member's house where she will feel emotionally relaxed.

Other reasons for the spread of relative marriage in Yemen is also due to tribal practices, as tribesmen feel that their daughters are safer after marriage when they are near and close, therefore. choosing a relative or even a close neighbor or friend for their daughter.

Relative marriage has accelerated over the years, as the percentage of relative marriages in Yemen is now 47.5% according to the Ministry of Health. This percentage comes higher than any other Arab country. The percentage of relative marriage in Saudi Arabia and Palestine  is at 40%, while it reaches 38% in both Kuwait and Egypt. Not surprisingly, the number is lower in western countries where it reaches only 1-2% in the United States.

Anciently, there were marriages between close relatives, and it was not limited to the ordinary people. It was practiced through prophets as was the case of marriage between Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) and Sarah.