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Birth defects: 8 million annually worldwide

mbined accounted for about 26 percent of all such birth defects in 2001: congenital heart defects (1,040,865 births); neural tube defects (323,904 births); the hemoglobin disorders thalassemia and sickle cell disease (307,897 births); Down syndrome (217,293 births); and G6PD deficiency (177,032 births).

The database includes only birth defects due to genetic or partly genetic causes. Exact figures for birth defects due to post-conception damage from fetal alcohol syndrome, iodine deficiency disorder, congenital rubella syndrome, and congenital syphilis were not generated for this report.

"If these figures were available, one might expect the total to be higher, and we do expect them to increase as added information on infant mortality and disability is assembled," Prof. Modell says.

What Can Be Done to Save Babies

The authors of the report say that it is a common misconception that attention to birth defects will draw funding from other priority public health efforts -- when, in fact, increased efforts to reduce birth defects in children contributes to the health of the entire population.

Their recommendations in this report are aimed both at addressing health disparities between richer and poorer nations and at reducing the toll of infant deaths, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

"Experience from high-income countries shows that overall mortality and disability from birth defects could be reduced by up to 70 percent if the recommendations in this report were broadly implemented," says Prof. Christianson.

Among the interventions that would have immediate impact are folic acid supplementation to prevent neural tube defects; iodination of salt to prevent severe congenital hypothyroidism; and rubella immunization to prevent congenital rubella syndrome.

Recommendations in the report with both immediate and long-term impact include those that strengthen medical genetics service
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Source:March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation


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