Figures obtained by The Mail on Sunday under Freedom of Information laws reveal a huge challenge, not only for such communities, but also for the Health Service. The figures show that up to 20 per cent of the children treated for congenital problems in cities such as Sheffield, Glasgow and Birmingham are of Pakistani descent, a figure significantly greater than the background populations, which can be four per cent or lower.
Birmingham Children’s Hospital alone has seen the number of Pakistani children treated for genetic disorders increase by as much as 43 per cent since 2011.
Scientific studies over at least three decades have linked first-cousin unions to an increased risk of genetic disease.
Yet it remains discussed only with extreme reluctance.
The day her four-year-old brother died is firmly rooted in Aisha Khan’s memory.
Aisha was only eight when she woke up to find her home in West Yorkshire filled with people; a kindly uncle scooping her out of bed with her three older siblings while her distraught parents mourned.
Hundreds of such conditions, many of them so rare they have never before been seen in Britain, are now being diagnosed at children’s hospitals.
Typically, the effects include neurological problems, heart or kidney failure, lung and liver failings, blindness, deafness and learning problems.
Aisha broke with tradition by refusing to marry a cousin, so great were her concerns about the risk.‘My dad would not accept that being married to his cousin could have affected his children,’ she said. It’s in the hands of God.”‘In his mind, it was all about the will of Allah – nothing to do with genetics, which made me hugely frustrated.
He’d say if genetics was the reason, how come some of his children were healthy?
In Glasgow, the proportion is about 18 per cent, even though Pakistanis account for 3.8 per cent of the local population.
In Manchester, Derby and Leeds, about one in ten children with a genetic disorder is of Pakistani heritage – again significantly above the background population.
Medical professionals fear being labelled racist, while individuals among the groups most affected are reluctant to be seen as disloyal.