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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

Temple: Students, Faculty Receive Top Honors from Society of Behavioral Health

Research projects on human immunodeficienty virus (HIV) prevention in Philadelphia and hereditary disease in Saudi Arabia have won top honors for two researchers in the Temple University College of Public Health’s Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

The Society of Behavioral Health will award annual prizes for best research abstracts in the nation to Sarah Bass, associate professor and director of the Risk Communication Laboratory, and Mr. Mohammed Alhajji, a PhD candidate and research assistant in the Lab.

Mr. Alhajji, who won in the student research category, proposed a promising intervention to prevent the spread of sickle cell disease, one of the most common genetic disorders in his home country of Saudi Arabia.  A child can develop the disease only if both parents carry the abnormal recessive gene, but many people don’t know if they do. Traditions of arranged and intrafamily marriages create the risk of pairing relatives such as cousins who may both carry the gene. A 2005 law required premarital screening to receive a marriage license, Alhajji says, “but the timing of the screening as required by the government is way too late in the process. You could be dating for years and have all the arrangements set up, and then right before your wedding you get a screening. Some people just ignore the results.”

In April of 2019 he returned to his home municipality of Alahsa to conduct focus groups and collect data from parents and high school students, measuring their openness to screening children as teenagers.

“There was a huge support of it,” he says. Earlier screening would make age-old marriage traditions safer. “I’m not proposing any change of culture, because that would be too much of a battle for me. What I’m suggesting is a tool to guide their arrangement.”

Read more at the College of Public Health.

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