Ireland Too Grey for the Burqa

Colin Gleeson, Times of London, December 28, 2008

MUSLIM women who wear the burqa in Ireland are at increased risk of pelvic fractures during childbirth because of vitamin D deficiency due to a lack of sunlight, a consultant warns.

Babies born to women with vitamin D deficiency are also more prone to seizures in their first week of life, according to Dr Miriam Casey, of the Osteoporosis Unit in St James’s hospital in Dublin.

A burqa is an enveloping outer garment worn by some Muslim women. In hot countries, enough sunlight gets through to give them sufficient vitamin D, but this may not happen in countries where there is limited sunshine, such as Ireland and Britain.

Casey said she was aware of cases involving pelvic fractures, and warned that these could become more frequent as Ireland’s Muslim population increased. “Ireland’s temperate climate doesn’t have the intense sunlight that keeps burqa-clad women from becoming vitamin D-deficient in their own countries,” she said.

Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium and is crucial for making bones strong. The greatest source is sunlight.

Casey said the fractures occur at sites of particular weakness which develop in under-mineralised pelvic bones. In these women’s babies, low calcium can cause “serious complications such as seizures, growth retardation, muscle weakness and fractures”.

“As a toddler, carrying the weight of the torso can force the development of a bow-legged appearance and a waddling gait,” she said. “Later, there can be rickets, which is caused by vitamin D deficiency, with swollen wrists and bones that fail to fuse in adolescence.”

Darker skins can produce as little as 1% of the vitamin D that fair skins produce. Moreover, studies have found that the rate of many diseases rises the further north one moves, leading researchers to suspect that vitamin D may play a greater role in health than previously thought.

Casey said: “As we see a rise in the number of Muslims in Ireland, it’s going to become a massive problem. It’s worse in England whose Muslim community is older. There are already problems in the Rotunda [a maternity hospital in Dublin] and the paediatric hospitals.”

A spokeswoman for the Islamic community in Ireland said she was unaware of health problems suffered by women wearing burqas.

Last year, Muslim women in the UK were warned that wearing the hijab could cause poor health for them and their babies. A UK government spokesman said: “We are not interfering in a Muslim woman’s right to wear the hijab, but we are stressing that we all need sunlight on our skins.”

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