(Persia Digest) – “Chahar Borj” is a village in the borough of Esfarayen in the North Khorasan Province of northeastern Iran. It has become known for the extraordinary number of blind babies being born here and, despite efforts to contain the problem, it still suffers from this old wound.
“Chahar Borj” village has 631 families making up its 2400 population. It contains a hidden gene that has given it the largest population of blind people in North Khorasan. The gene, formed through the marriage of close blood relations, has been passed down generations for 300 years now. With the efforts of the medical team working here, only 31 people in the village have been born blind. A number of years back, there were 100 blind inhabitants here and there would have been more if this genetic disease had not been contained.
To find the reason behind this tragedy, medical teams from Japan, the UK, and Iran began work at the village two decades ago; eventually, the gene for the disease was discovered through the efforts of a physician named Nur-Mohammad Ghiasvand in 2009. Ghiasvand was one of the experts who traveled to the village for a few months from the Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Tehran. He began his research here and proposed the setup of a specialist center for the prevention of blindness.
Head of the Department of Genetics and Faculty Member of Shahid Beheshti University, and a faculty member of Michigan University, Ghiasvand discovered that the problem was not in the chromosomes; but, rumour had it that babies were being born blind due to the water quality and environmental factors in the area. The news had even spread that the livestock were also blind. The rumours had led to emigration from this area, creating many economic problems. Foodstuffs grown here were not purchased and unemployment was rife in the village.
In his research, this specialist was able to discover the genes causing the blindness. Ever since, diagnostic tests (pre-marriage and pre-birth) are carried out with his help at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, identifying high risk marriages. Couples are given the required genetic advice prior to the wedding. The Welfare Department also provides services for the cost of treatment, equipping the home and workplace, referral to hospitals, and school and university fees. Educational classes have also been setup for their rehabilitation at the Armaghan Center.
Photos: Payman Hamidipur/Ana