A non-directive programme of prenatal counselling was used during a four year period. Forty-three couples at risk for having a baby with a haemoglobinopathy were identified. Prenatal diagnosis was offered in 19 pregnancies to 14 couples at risk of having a baby with sickle cell anaemia and in two pregnancies in two couples at risk of a baby with beta thalassaemia major, who presented before the 18th week of pregnancy. Six couples at risk for sickle cell anaemia accepted prenatal diagnosis in 10 pregnancies, as did both couples at risk for thalassaemia. Couples who were eligible for prenatal diagnosis but refused it tended not to have been informed about sickle cell disease before counselling, one partner was more frequently absent at the time of the initial counselling session, or they either had no children with sickle cell disease or the children were not severely affected. Other factors influencing their decision included a poor obstetric history and rejection of abortion, mainly on moral grounds. The approximately 50% uptake of prenatal diagnosis in this initial study highlights the complex issues involved. Our experience indicates that with systematic screening and counselling in the antenatal clinic, and with increased awareness of the haemoglobinopathies, couples at risk will be in a better position to make informed decisions.
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