Thalassemia in the next millennium. Keynote address
Over the next decade it will be essential to make the thalassemia problem more visible to governments and international health agencies that are involved in health care in the emerging countries. This will require detailed population surveys to determine the gene frequencies of the important forms of thalassemia, together with a better understanding of their natural history and of the factors that modify their clinical phenotypes. In particular, more needs to be learnt about the natural history and ways of managing the intermediate forms of beta thalassemia. While research should continue towards definitive forms of treatment it is important, in the meantime, to pursue the development of cheap and safe oral chelating agents and to carry out clinical trials of drugs that may interact one with another to elevate the level of fetal hemoglobin, particularly in patients with different types of beta thalassemia intermedia. The partial control of the disease by carrier detection and prenatal diagnosis will only be feasible in emerging countries if it is possible to obtain the financial support of the major international agencies and the cooperation of their governments and communities; the remarkable success of this approach in some of the Mediterranean islands is a good example of what can be achieved.