WASHINGTON (CMC) – The Caribbean Tuesday joined the international community in observing World Birth Defects Day with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) noting that congenital anomalies, or birth defects, are the second-leading cause of death in children under five in the region.
PAHO said that combined with prematurity, asphyxia and sepsis, birth defects account for 44 per cent of deaths among children. Globally, birth defects affect one in 33 babies and cause 3.2 million disabilities each year.
“The commemoration of this day aims to raise awareness about this common, costly and challenging problem but also to foster the development and implementation of prevention programs and to expand healthcare services for all people with birth defects,” said Suzanne Serruya, Director of PAHO’s Latin American Center for Perinatology (CLAP).
PAHO said congenital anomalies can have genetic, infectious or environmental origins, although in most cases it is difficult to identify a cause.
It said the most common serious birth disorders are heart and neural tube defects and Down syndrome.
Each year, an estimated 270,000 newborn babies die in the first 28 days of life from congenital anomalies, which are the fourth-leading cause of neonatal deaths after complications of premature delivery, neonatal infections and complications of childbirth, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data.
For babies who survive and live with these conditions, birth defects increase their risk of long-term disabilities, which greatly impact the individuals affected, their families, health systems and society, PAHO said.
It said many birth defects can be prevented or treated. Sufficient folic acid and iodine consumption during pregnancy, vaccination against rubella, which can be transmitted to children during pregnancy, and proper prenatal care are all key prevention measures.
“Our vision is for every child to be born with the best health possible and with the potential for a full and productive life.”