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Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency is a genetic disorder that affects the function of red blood cells. This condition is linked to mutations on the X chromosome and is known to be the most common enzyme deficiency in humans, affecting approximately 400 million people worldwide [1]. In anthropological terms, G6PD is considered a fascinating subject due to its extensive geographic distribution, distinctive pathological patterns, and evolution-driven genetic adaptation.

G6PD: A Brief Overview

G6PD is a critical enzyme responsible for protecting red blood cells from oxidative damage. In individuals with G6PD deficiency, this protection is compromised, leading to a condition called hemolytic anemia under certain stressors such as certain medications, infections, or consumption of fava beans. The symptoms include jaundice, fatigue, rapid heart rate, and shortness of breath [2].

The Geographic Distribution of G6PD Deficiency

G6PD deficiency has a particular global distribution pattern, with a higher prevalence in areas previously or currently affected by malaria, like sub-Saharan Africa, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Table 1 displays the estimated percentage of G6PD deficiency across these regions.

Table 1: Geographic Distribution of G6PD Deficiency

RegionEstimated Percentage
Sub-Saharan Africa20%
Middle East5-25%
Southeast Asia10-20%
Data based on World Health Organization reports [3]

Evolutionary Perspective

The connection between G6PD deficiency and malaria-endemic regions has driven scientists to propose the malaria protection hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that G6PD deficiency has persisted in these populations because it offers some protection against malaria, much like the sickle cell trait [4]. In-depth analysis of various G6PD allelic variations supports this theory.

G6PD Deficiency and Human Migration

One of the unique characteristics of G6PD deficiency is its variance in genetic mutation patterns. There are over 400 different G6PD variants documented across the world, which can be interpreted through the lens of human migration and population interaction. Genetic variations may indicate past human movement and intermingling, and the spread of G6PD-deficient alleles may follow the pathways of ancient migration routes.

G6PD and Racial/Ethnic Disparities

G6PD deficiency varies greatly among different racial and ethnic groups. This disparity can have significant implications in terms of healthcare provision and disease management. Table 2 illustrates the distribution of G6PD deficiency across various ethnic groups:

Table 2: Ethnic Distribution of G6PD Deficiency

Ethnic GroupEstimated Percentage
Sephardic Jews20%
Data based on NIH report[5]

Understanding these racial and ethnic disparities in the prevalence of G6PD deficiency can guide healthcare professionals in providing personalised and culturally sensitive care.

Social and Economic Implications

The social and economic implications of G6PD deficiency are particularly significant in developing regions where malaria is prevalent. The disease can contribute to a cycle of poverty due to reduced productivity and increased healthcare costs. In addition, social stigma associated with the condition may also affect individuals, especially in cultures where the genetic disorder is misunderstood or misrepresented.

Advancing Research on G6PD

As genetic research progresses, it is crucial to consider the sociocultural and anthropological aspects of conditions like G6PD deficiency. This perspective can help us understand how genetics, environment, culture, and social norms intersect to shape human health and disease patterns.


Exploring G6PD deficiency from an anthropological perspective provides a holistic understanding of the condition, informing strategies to manage and mitigate its impact. It showcases the role of human adaptation and cultural practices in shaping genetic and health landscapes, offering valuable insights into our shared human history and future.


[1] Luzzatto L, Nannelli C, Notaro R. Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase Deficiency. Hematology/Oncology Clinics. 2016; 30(2):373-393.

[2] Cappellini MD, Fiorelli G. Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency. Lancet. 2008; 371(9606):64-74.

[3] World Health Organization. Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency. WHO Working Group. Bull World Health Organ. 1989;67(6):601-611.

[4] Tishkoff SA, Varkonyi R, Cahinhinan N, et al. Haplotype diversity and linkage disequilibrium at human G6PD: recent origin of alleles that confer malarial resistance. Science. 2001;293(5529):455-462.

[5] NIH. Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency. Genetics Home Reference. 2023.

Anthropologist Vasundhra - Author and Anthroholic

Vasundhra, an anthropologist, embarks on a captivating journey to decode the enigmatic tapestry of human society. Fueled by an insatiable curiosity, she unravels the intricacies of social phenomena, immersing herself in the lived experiences of diverse cultures. Armed with an unwavering passion for understanding the very essence of our existence, Vasundhra fearlessly navigates the labyrinth of genetic and social complexities that shape our collective identity. Her recent publication unveils the story of the Ancient DNA field, illuminating the pervasive global North-South divide. With an irresistible blend of eloquence and scientific rigor, Vasundhra effortlessly captivates audiences, transporting them to the frontiers of anthropological exploration.

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