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ICMR-NIRRCH to offer free testing, counselling to tackle rare diseases

IANS Feb 29, 2024

In a bid to counter the burden of rare diseases in the country, ICMR’s National Institute for Research in Reproductive and Child Health (ICMR-NIRRCH) on Feb 28 announced to offer free genetic testing and counselling services.

Rare diseases are typically chronic and progressive medical conditions that pose life-threatening risks to those affected. Out of the 350 million patients suffering from rare diseases globally, India alone is home to approximately 72-96 million patients, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW).

The new Genetic Research Centre (GRC) will assess clinically abnormal cases of rare paediatric diseases as well as track the origins of undiagnosed genetic disorders. It also aims to facilitate timely therapeutic interventions and provide critical support for both patients and their families.

The centre also holds approval under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 (PCPNDT) to conduct genetic counselling and testing.

While the GRC is currently offering its services in Maharashtra, people with rare diseases from other parts of the country can avail the services, ICMR-NIRRCH said.

“Strengthening access to genetic testing and counselling for rare diseases will pave the way for their early diagnosis and timely intervention, helping improve the health and wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable sections of society. This is a revolutionary step that can transform several lives, especially young lives in the country,” said Dr. Geetanjali Sachdeva, Director, ICMR-NIRRCH, in a statement.

With no approved treatment for 95 per cent of rare diseases, the diagnosis of rare diseases is challenging. While early genetic testing is key, diagnosis is conducted through a distinctive blend of clinical and laboratory methods, including cytogenetic, biochemical, and molecular approaches.

At present, the centre is providing its services to around 570 families yearly, covering genetic conditions during infancy, childhood, and adolescence, as well as for reproductive difficulties faced by couples.

“Our centre is working to address a critical public health concern. By reaching out to special schools, hospitals and the public, we are striving to raise awareness around rare diseases and enhance the uptake of essential testing and counselling. In doing so, we aim to mitigate the societal burden of these diseases and realise the national goal of a healthy society, with universal access to healthcare services,” said Dr. Shailesh Pande, Medical Geneticist and Head of GRC, in the statement.

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