On Sunday, “World Birth Defects Day” was observed, as part of a global effort to raise awareness about the millions of children born with spina bifida, congenital heart birth defects and other malformations every year around the world.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the agency’s participation in the annual program, along with more than 120 other organizations around the world.
World Birth Defects Day is an annual event focused on raising awareness of the causes and impact of birth defects. This year marks the 5th anniversary of World Birth Defects Day, focusing on the theme “Many birth defects, one voice.”
The focus of the event is to raise awareness about the causes of birth defects and how birth defects impact the world. Roughly 3-6% of infants worldwide are born with a serous birth defect. This results in nearly 8 million children born with birth defects, roughly 3 million children will die before their fifth birthday.
Birth defects range from spina bifida, congenital heart defects, cleft lip or palate, club foot, to functional defects like sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy.
The CDC emphasized the main purpose of this year’s program was to not only raise awareness about birth defects and the global impact, but also increase opportunities for prevention. That is done through several focuses:
- Increasing birth defects monitoring programs around the world.
- Improve existing birth defects monitoring programs.
- Improve access to care for those affected by birth defects.
- Continue research to identify causes of birth defects.
One of the primary focuses of the CDC is to track birth defects and analyze data to help prevent them. Tracking and analysis systems can help lead to recommendations, policies, and services to help prevent birth defects.
For example, in 2016 after an increase in microcephaly cases reported to Brazil’s Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of International Concern. In response, the CDC created tracking and research systems to track microcephaly cases and to gain a better understanding of the impact of the zika virus infection and offer recommendations and preventions.
Similarly, a folic acid program was launched in response to an increase in neural tube defects, which are birth defects affecting a baby’s brain and spine. To help prevent neural tube defects the CDC launched a program recommending women of reproductive age get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.
Folic acid was added to products containing corn masa flour, like tortillas, after research indicated Latina women are more likely to have a child affected by neural tube defects.
Birth defects affect millions of babies and families and can lead to a lifetime of disability. Birth defects can affect any baby regardless of where they are born, socioeconomic status, or their race or ethnicity.