Tehran’s First Genetic Center Launched

Iran still lags in the required technologies for a number of genetic tests, and the samples have to be sent abroad for standard lab testing
Official tariffs have not been fixed yet for the counseling services and the cost ranges from $48.5 up to over $857. Official tariffs have not been fixed yet for the counseling services and the cost ranges from $48.5 up to over $857.

Tehran’s first center for genetic counseling services and the second in Iran was launched by Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences (SBUMS) at Taleqani Hospital.

With pre-marriage genetic testing made mandatory for all couples in the next five-year economic development plan (2016-2021), such comprehensive centers are essential, said Vahid Yasaei, head of the center, IRNA reported.

The 80-billion rial ($2.2 million) center took eight years to be established. Today it would cost over 300 billion rials ($8.5 million).

With sections including maternal and pediatric medicine and laboratories of molecular genetics, cytogenetic and pre-birth tests, the center has the capacity to analyze around 200 samples per month. It also has a special section to perform urgent lab tests on samples from other hospitals.

Yasaei noted that pre-marital genetic tests are now mandatory but the center will not be able to meet the needs of the millions of people covered by the SBUMS.

“There is certainly the need to expand genetic services in the public health sector, however, due to the financial constraints this is not possible at the moment,” he added.

Furthermore, Iran does not still have the required technologies for a number of genetic tests for which the samples have to be sent to other countries for standard lab testing.

Official tariffs have not been fixed yet for the counseling services and the cost ranges from 1.7 million rials ($48.5) up to over 30 million rials ($857).

“Nevertheless, genetic testing is so important that even low-income families are prepared to pay, at any cost,” he said.

This is the second such center in Iran after the one established by the Shiraz University of Medical Sciences where a wide range of genetic services are provided by experts in genetic and clinical sciences as well as other medical disciplines.

The official also said it is not possible to launch genetic counseling centers in all provinces; therefore “the best way is to set up eight or nine centers at prominent medical universities like Isfahan, Tabriz, Mashhad and Ahvaz, and refer samples from across the country to these laboratories.”

  Lagging in Genetic Services

Mohammad Aqajani, the deputy for treatment at the Health Ministry, said during the inauguration of the center that Iran lags behind many countries in genetic services.

“To make up for such shortcomings, we need to create more diagnostic laboratories that are essential to prevent genetic disorders,” he said.

Aqajani added that given the financial constraints of the health sector, a data network linking all state and private labs is underway so as to prevent repetitive and unneeded genetic tests.  

Another measure is the preparation of clinical guidebooks for medical professionals that help guide the way in the development of genetic services beneficial to the people. The guidebooks will set the standards for the services.  “The standards will be obligatory and the import of technologies and services outside the framework of the guidelines will not be allowed.”

With the development of advanced medical services in Iran, patients travelling overseas for treatment of genetic problems has nearly reached zero, he said, but a significant number of samples continue to be sent abroad for genetic diagnostic tests, many of which “are deemed unnecessary by the Health Ministry,” he said.

The revised medical tariffs will also be included in the new book on health tariffs.

Aqajani pointed to the Health Reform Plan launched in May 2014 under which 600 specialized and super-specialty clinics have been established, and “250 more will be opened before the end of the current administration’s tenure in May next year.”

An estimated 17,000 doctors and specialists are working in these clinics, 10,000 of whom are full-time staff in the public health sector.

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