Human genetics in Johannesburg, South Africa: Past, present and future
Genetic services were set up in Johannesburg, South Africa, in the late 1960s, but only became widespread and formalised after the first Professor of Human Genetics, Trefor Jenkins, was installed at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1974. The first services involved chromosome studies, and these developed into genetic counselling services. Prenatal diagnosis began to be offered, particularly for older women at risk for chromosome abnormalities in the fetus, and those at risk for neural tube defects. Genetic screening was then initiated for the Jewish community because of their high carrier rate for Tay-Sachs disease. Educational courses in human genetics were offered at Wits Medical School, and medical as well as other health professionals began to be trained. Research, supported by national and international bodies, was integral in the activities of the Department (now Division) of Human Genetics and focused on genetic conditions affecting the generally understudied black community. In the late 1980s the first training programme for genetic counsellors was started at MSc level, and postgraduate scientists at MSc and PhD levels studied in and qualified through the Department. At the same time molecular genetic laboratories were set up. In the late 1990s training for medical geneticists was initiated. Extensive high-quality genetic services developed over the four decades were comparable to those of most other departments in developed countries.