By Muhammad Shahid
PESHAWAR: Life has changed dramatically for Zahid, a 22-year-old patient of thalassemia, after he entered into wedlock last weekend.
“Compared to my unmarried life, I feel more satisfied now,” he says, “Even my physical symptoms have improved. Previously I suffered body aches but now the condition has improved a little bit.”
Zahid, a resident of Shabqadar tehsil in Charsadda district, helps his father at a shop selling Charsadwal Chappal.
“I caught the disease when I drank too much of a medicine while I was five-year old,” he claimed, and ever since he has been treating his disease through blood transfusion and other medicines.
A thalassemia patient needs blood transfusion thrice or twice a month. Zahid says he had been transfusing blood through the Frontier Foundation – a private welfare organisation providing treatment facilities to thalassemia patients – since 2003 as previously he used to avail the service at another organisation, Fatimid Foundation. However, he says that nowadays he is using medicines and has not undergone blood transfusion for the last several months
Dr Fakhar Zaman of the Frontier Foundation disputed the claim of Zahid and said that thalassemia is a hereditary disease and cannot be caused by any food or infection.
He also said that recently they had started administering some medicines to patients to increase the duration of their blood transfusion.
“Zahid has also started using the medicines that have increased duration of blood transfusion,” he added.
When donors donate blood, it is then processed and several elements of blood are separate for treatment of different patients.
“We separate red blood cells, fresh frozen plasma and platelets. Red blood cells are needed by thalassemia patients, the plasma by hemophilia patients and platelets are required for treatment of cancer patients,” stated Dr Fakhar of Frontier Foundation.
He said the lifecycle of plasma is six months, that of red blood cells is 30 days and platelets just five days, after which these elements of blood expire and are no longer able to be used in patients’ treatment.
Chairman of the Frontier Foundation, Sahibzada Muhammad Haleem, said they set up the organisation in 2003. He added that since its inception till February 2016, the Foundation has received 165,407 bags of blood in donation.
He added that currently they are having 2015 thalassemia patients and 224 hemophilia patients registered at our foundation and all of them are being provided treatment facilities to them.
“One transfusion costs about 3000 rupees per patient,” he said, adding that they also provided services to patients of hemophilia, which is a bleeding disorder.
Sahibzada also said that thalassemia’s only treatment is bone marrow transplant.
However, Dr Fakhar said the success rate of bone marrow transplant in Pakistan nowadays is very low.
“At international level, Italy has a high success rate of bone marrow transplant, almost 99 percent,” he said.
Besides Frontier Foundation, there are several other organisations that are providing blood transfusion services to patients. Fatimid Foundation, Khun-i-Jigar Foundation, Hamza Foundation, etc are a few of them.
Thalassemia is a fatal disease but most people lack awareness about it. Another problem is that there are few people who donate blood.
Dr Fakhar, while quoting a Health Department survey, said: “About 2% Pakistanis donate blood. There would be no shortage of blood for patients of thalassemia, hemophilia and others if at least 4% of Pakistani population donates blood.”
Aslam Marwat, head of Khun-i-Jigar Foundation, told this scribe that cousin marriages should be avoided to prevent thalassemia.
However, he claimed that the disease can be cured through Tibb-i-Nabavi, a treatment through herbs. He said that he knew a friend who got well by treatment of an herbal practitioner in Wah cantonment.
The case of Zahid may bring hope into the lives of thousands of thalassemia patients who are fed up and living a life of despair. The wedding of Zahid is something unique because there are very few cases of thalassemia patients’ marriage. Medical experts say a thalassemia patient can marry a normal person and there are chances that their children would be healthy but still there are chances of the children’s suffering too. And if both the partners are thalassemic, the children are also expected to be thalassemic.