SWO Says Making Progress

SWO Says Making Progress SWO Says Making Progress

Prevention of disabilities and genetic disorders and empowerment of the target population under coverage of the State Welfare Organization (SWO) are two primary  goals in which “we are moving forward,” said Dr. Anoushiravan Mohseni Bandpei, the head of SWO, at a press conference on the occasion of Welfare Week (July 13-19).

More than five million people across the country are under the SWO umbrella, of whom 180,000 are women heads of households.

Efforts made by the SWO during the last fiscal year (ended in March) saw free prenatal counseling to hundreds of expectant mothers in many provinces. Mothers eligible for medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) were referred to the Legal Medicine Organization (LMO) to receive legal permission.

“This measure has prevented hundreds of defective births, which impose a huge financial burden on the government,” he said, IRNA reported.

Assuring that subsequent pregnancies needn’t have birth disorders, he said free genetic testing and counseling is provided to mothers who terminate their first pregnancies and plan to conceive again.

There are more than 1.5 million people comprising 2% of the population who suffer from some form of severe disability. While 1.3 million are registered with the SWO, efforts are on to identify all people with disabilities by improving screening coverage.

  Premarital Counseling

The SWO has signed MoUs with seven private laboratories in Tehran to offer premarital and prenatal genetic and biochemical tests to poor couples at discounted costs. There are 16 counseling centers in the province, of which 5 offer free services.

Noting the high prevalence of genetic disorders in Kerman, Mazandaran and Isfahan provinces, he said, in order to reduce the rate, the provincial public notary offices have been instructed not to register marriages of couples who don’t undergo genetic tests. Annually, 50,000 to 60,000 babies from among the 1.5 million childbirths in Iran, are born with some type of genetic disorders, he pointed out. Most are minor and cause no problems, but over half of the babies (more than 25,000) are seen to have severe disabilities.

Currently, 240 genetic centers with around 2,600 trained physicians and 245 medical experts for screening and testing are collaborating with the SWO across the country under a pilot plan. Premarital genetic testing will be made mandatory nationwide by the end of the sixth economic development plan (2016-2021).

Bandpei said measures have been taken to reduce hearing and vision problems among infants and young children. “We have increased coverage of hearing screening for infants to more than 90% and around 85% of all children are currently covered for amblyopia (vision defect).”

Stating that drug abuse is one of main social harms in Iran, he said addiction is worse than any kind of disability as it can significantly limit people’s potential. There are nearly 1.5 million addicts in the country.

The SWO is equipped with an adequate and qualified workforce to tackle social problems. A 12,000-strong team of specialists, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists are operating under its auspices with the aim of reducing social ills, like drug addiction. It is, however, not clear why despite the huge workforce, funding and declared commitment of the SWO, drug addiction and other social vulnerabilities are on the rise.

The approach over the years, the official says, has shifted from organization-centered programs to social and family-oriented ones.

  Addiction Survey

A new national survey on addiction has been recently conducted by the SWO and the results will be presented to the ministries of interior and cooperatives, labor and social welfare soon. Risk factors associated with addiction were investigated, Bandpei said.

During the last year with the help of Social Emergency Organization affiliated to the SWO, timely intervention including counseling (talking therapy) to 3,880 women and 1,900 men, helped prevent 4,500 suicides.

“Last year, 1.1 million calls were made to the SWO consultation line (1480) and 600,000 people received necessary telephone interventions and consultation. We are planning to increase the response capacity two-fold by the end of the year in March 2017,” he added. The SWO budget which was $63 million in the previous year is projected to increase by 20% to $75 million in the current fiscal year that started on March 20.