Beds, Herts & Bucks

Fifth of Luton's infant deaths linked to kin marriage

About one fifth of infant deaths in Luton are caused by hereditary genetic conditions, council figures show.

About 18 children under the age of one die each year, and about four of these are due to conditions linked to cousin marriage, Luton Borough Council said.

Statistics also show infant mortality in the town is above the national average.

It has set up a review group to look at the relevant health risks, to see if losses can be reduced.

Data from 2010-2012 shows that for every 1,000 live births, an average of 5.2 babies between 0-12 months die in Luton, compared to a national figure of 4.4.

The council has set up the Infant Mortality Rate in Luton group to investigate all the causes, including links to deprivation and poverty, as well as genetic issues.

Together with partners from Luton and Dunstable Hospital and the Luton Clinical Commissioning Group, it is examining what can be done to reduce the losses.

'Right information'

The council's director of public health, Gerry Taylor, said it was looking at genetic conditions in the same way as any other health risk for infant mortality, such as smoking in pregnancy and maternal obesity, and making sure the right services were available.

"We are making sure people have the right information upon which to make their decisions," she said.

"We are working with the screening and genetic counselling service, to make sure they have tailored information to meet the particular health needs of Luton's population.

"We have also started to really work with communities in Luton to find out about the issues that relate to particular decisions in life."

She said it was "not about making judgements about people's behaviour" but the council had a responsibility to try and improve the health of the town's population.

Zafar Khan from the Luton Council of Faiths, who has been married to his first cousin for 36 years, said people were becoming more aware of medical science and the risks involved with marrying in the "close kin group".

"People have tests and wherever it's appropriate, people refrain from marrying in the close kin, but it will take time I think," he said.

"But [a couple] should not actually enter marriage if they know that there is the potential of having a child that would be born with some deformity or disability.

"Social customs evolve over centuries so whatever change takes place, takes place slowly."

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