A countrywide prospective study aimed at establishing the prevalence of the haemoglobinopathy genes in the Portuguese population was carried out by screening 15,208 randomly selected blood samples from young males. This male based survey provided the opportunity of assessing simultaneously the prevalence of the red cell enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency, thus giving a picture of these important hereditary anaemias in Portugal. The results showed a low average frequency of beta thalassaemia (0.45%) and haemoglobin S (0.32%) carriers as well as G6PD deficiency (0.51%). However, these disorders are unevenly distributed throughout the country with a higher prevalence in some areas, mainly in the south. The relationship of this pattern of haemoglobinopathies to the known haplotypes linked to beta thalassaemia and sickle cell disease, relevant historical events, and local selective pressure was investigated. Hb D and Hb J are the commonest other structural variants. The implemented programme for control of these hereditary anaemias is described.
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