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World Birth Defects Day is celebrated every year on March 3 to raise awareness for congenital disorders.

By Dr Prashant Jain

About 8 million babies worldwide are born each year with serious birth defects that may be structural, functional or metabolic. About 3,00,000 newborn (1 in 10) and about 5,00,000 children aged under five years die annually with maximum deaths reported in southeast Asia. Birth defects prevalence in India varies between 61 and 69.9/1000 live births. The high incidence of birth defects in India is mainly attributed to high fertility, unplanned pregnancies, poor antenatal care, poor maternal nutrition, consanguineous marriages, etc. The majority of newborns with a serious congenital disorder who survive face a lifetime of severe disability.

Birth defects affect all races and ethnicities and all nations, but the cost is particularly high in low-income countries. In many countries, birth defects can actually be a cause of death among infants and young children while those who do survive can suffer lifelong physical or mental learning difficulties. About 70 per cent of these birth defects are preventable but for that, these children need access to appropriate treatment and care to reach their full potential in life.

World Birth Defects Day, started in 2015 by the World Health Organization, is celebrated every year on March 3 to raise awareness on congenital disorders. It has now become a movement. The aim is to prevent, increase the care and awareness about these preventable defects and associated disabilities.

Pregnancy has a 3-5 per cent risk of the baby having a congenital defect. The common congenital defects/anomalies include cardiac anomaly, urogenital anomalies, spina bifida, Down Syndrome, etc. An organised approach and dedicated team can help in diagnosing these anomalies in time and can offer a management protocol to parents for future treatment, hence improving the quality of life.

Various urogenital problems like hydronephrosis, posterior urethral valve, bladder exstrophy, etc., can be detected during antenatal scans. These problems require a systematic approach beginning from the antenatal period and continuing during the postnatal period. Awareness and timely management can prevent the various associated morbidities due to organ damage. Adequate antenatal counselling about these birth defects helps in allaying parental anxiety and preparing them for the future management of their child.

Congenital disorders are also known to be associated with stillbirths and premature births. Several hundred thousand babies are born with congenital disorders due to poor care in pregnancy, such as micronutrient deficiencies, infections, and alcohol exposure. So, the interventions not only can avoid preventable maternal morbidity and mortality, but also child morbidity and mortality.

(The writer is the director of department of pediatric surgery and pediatric urology at BLK Super Specialty Hospital)

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