KUALA LUMPUR: More genetic counsellors are needed to address preventable genetic-related health issues but there is a lack of government recognition of such a post, said Genetic Counselling Society Malaysia (GCSM) special adviser Prof Dr Thong Meow Keong.
He said there are only seven such counsellors in the country and local universities are in a dilemma whether to train more due to the lack of recognition.
“If the Public Service Department does not recognise genetic counsellors in the government service, universities will be producing graduates with no jobs, ” he said at the first Genomic and Genetic Counselling workshop and the launch of GCSM here yesterday.
Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye who launched the GCSM said the ministry would look into it and see if there was a need.
“I do think there is a need but on a flip side, there are lots of courses conducted in universities with no guarantee of them being employed by the government, ” he said.
He said, however, that the demand for the counsellors should be left to market forces.
On how genetic counselling will help, Dr Thong said having genetic counsellors would provide people with knowledge and options for their conditions.
“Many of us inherently have a genetic condition – osteoarthritis or cancers or cardiac diseases – when we grow old. None of us are spared, ” he said.
He said genetic counselling was important because there was a perception that such diseases could not be cured, which is far from the truth, as they could be prevented and in some cases, cured.
Dr Thong said Malaysians lack genetic knowledge and there was a need to create more awareness and allocation of resources for this.
“Rare diseases occur for instance, up to 9% of the population, ” he said, adding that in the US, it was estimated that five to 10 million people have rare diseases.
“In Malaysia, we are fortunate the government allocates funding for enzyme replacement therapy.
“But we have a long way to go because there are still many other rare diseases overlooked, ” he said.
Dr Lee said even if one was genetically predisposed to a disease, it did not mean one would get them.
“This is where genetic counselling comes in.
“They can find out what the risks are and the interventions that can be done to prevent it.
“A lot of genetic conditions are not just a result of a single gene but multiples genes plus the environment that can be influenced by behavioural change, ” he said.