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Human Genetics in Ecuador

  TEACHING HUMAN MEDICAL GENETICS

Teaching Genetics as an undergraduate subject and postgraduate ( Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology) is currently concentrated in universities in Quito. Studies in Genetics were initiated in 1987 for Medical students and in 1988 for Biology students and  this subject has been  extended to all universities specializing in Medicine and Biology.

Post graduate studies in Biomedical Science and the program towards a Masters degree in Genetics have been eliminated because of lack of financing.

The results obtained in the formation and development  of Genetics  as a field have not been too positive in relation to diffusion of activities and services. there is relatively little demand Genetic services. There is a lack of knowledge of the benefits of services in Genetics. Although there has been a more open attitude of non specialized professionals that are seeking Genetic services for their patients.

There are programs towards educating the public about genetics. There is a program in community education which is based on publication of articles about genetic subjects that are easy to understand and are published in local newspapers.

 

MAIN PROBLEMS IN OFFERING GENETIC SERVICES

The main problem is the lack of a state policy in relation to genetic problems and their social implications. The Ministry of  Public Health does not have a program in genetic health.

Another important problem that impedes genetics activities to spread is a lack of specialized work places due to lack of resources from institutions. The majority of institutions dedicated to provide genetic services have one or two specialized professionals. There is support from technicians, but work groups have not been formed. The perspectives for Universities seem more positive. Catholic University in Quito has a strong work group formed of 7 people, and Central University has a work force of 4 people.

A limiting factor in the practice of genetics is a cultural factor among the population. People tend to hide genetic problems, which could be due to social pressure created by a handicap. There is also a notion that medical activities should be geared towards treatment of illnesses, and genetic illnesses are seen as untreatable.

There is a national registry for chromosome alterations, and this way, we can understand the situation of the country in what refers to genetic problems, but there is no registry for malformations. An additional problem is what is known to as " biopyratism", samples from Indian populations are being smuggled out of the country for investigative purposes. This has stirred legal discussions. The purpose of geneticists is to preserve the genetic patrimony with an openness to  investigation agreements as those proposed by the Earth Conference in Rio, Agenda 41 and the Agreement of Cartagena about protection of genetic resources.

Some solutions to these problems could be:

  1. More pressure from the Genetics Society towards health authorities, with the purpose of creating state genetic services.
  2. More clinical and epidemiological investigation of genetic problems affecting our population. With this, we could prove the importance of genetics in the country.
  3. More participation and pressure from the affected groups or associations towards health authorities.
  4. Diffusion of genetics as a subject in universities and postgraduate studies, as well as short courses directed towards health professionals.
  5. Publication of activities in genetics and achievements in investigations as an alternative to solutions for genetic problems.
  6. Search for financing for  investigation projects for local genetic problems and cooperation form international investigators in order to share results and benefits.
  7. Compliance with international agreements for protection of local genetic resources.

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