When Hema Eswaran learnt of her second pregnancy, doctors at Voluntary Health Services, Taramani, advised tests to rule out the possibility of her child inheriting thalassemia.

Her first child Rahul, 12, was lucky as his brother was born negative for the condition and could donate bone marrow to cure his older brother who had thalassemia. Rahul's surgery cost the family Rs.8 lakh, of which Rs.1.5 lakh came from the Kalaignar health insurance scheme.

Rahul is one of the four children who has been cured of the condition and are beneficiaries under the insurance scheme.

Thalassemia is a genetic condition in which a person is unable to produce the chemical needed to make haemoglobin. Such persons need blood transfusion throughout their life if doctors cannot find an exact bone marrow match for them.

Children with the condition become pale and lose appetite a few months after birth and require blood transfusion every three weeks. Regular transfusion releases iron into the bloodstream and medicines are given to normalise the iron content. For, a high amount of iron could result in complications in liver, pituitary and the heart.

At the VHS, 159 youngsters from across the State are registered with the Thalassemia Welfare Association. They are given free blood transfusion, but medication for removing the iron overload costs Rs.4,026 every month. Of this, Rs.2,700 come from the Kalaignar health insurance scheme, said Health Minister M.R.K. Panneerselvam, who met with the patients at the hospital on Saturday. A total of 52 patients had received Rs.7.13 lakh towards treatment cost, he added.

Hemato oncologist Revathi Raj of Apollo Specialty Hospital said screening pregnant women for the defective gene would help prevent the spread of the condition. She called for automated blood count machines in primary health centres.

“Since thalassemia carriers are slightly anaemic during pregnancy, doctors tend to prescribe iron tablets as they think the women are suffering from iron deficiency anaemia,” she said. “But a proper screening would prevent birth of children with the defective gene.” Every year, 10,000 thalassemic children are born in India, she added.

Director of the VHS Blood Bank J. Balsubramaniam, Medical Director of Star Health and Allied Insurance S. Prakash and Director of Medical Education V. Kanagasabai participated.