Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Saudi Arabia’s Ambitious Genome Mapping Project - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

Health is a major concern for everyone, everywhere. It is almost always the most pressing issue in all societies. In Saudi Arabia, there is now a government project that could potentially become one of the most important in the country, influencing the future of millions of people. The Saudi Human Genome Program aims to provide a genetic database of the country’s 24 million citizens, and as-yet unborn Saudis of the future. While it is still too early to judge if it will be a success, it is certainly ambitious.

The project is based on collecting genetic data from all Saudi citizens, using that data in the diagnosis of many illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, according to King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, which funds the program. Knowledge of human DNA sequences for medical purposes is more important for our country than nuclear arms projects or the huge construction projects we spend most of our revenues on.

The project aims to enable medical institutions to understand diseases more fully, and to establish a healthcare program that helps draw a map of genetic disorders. This genetic map will help people get early treatment for illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, which represent major challenges for society, both right now and in the future. The project’s importance is that it develops diagnostic tests to become quicker, cheaper and more accurate. We will be able to find out, for example, if someone has a genetic predisposition towards diabetes. If so, an early intervention can be carried out with special treatment as a precautionary measure.

In this context, one wonders if most medical institutions like the health ministry and research institutions will be participating with or be linked to this project, which is supposed to eventually establish a database for millions of people and thus help them obtain preventive care.

Developing the medical field in a country like Saudi Arabia and elsewhere is a vital issue that is supposed to be on the top of the list of the state’s priorities. There are only about 10 percent of Saudis working in the public and private medical sectors, although a medical career is an honorable and respectable one and is one of the fastest-growing in the Kingdom. And those who work in the field usually help improve the health of their family and society.