MOBILE - Each year in this country, about 150,000 babies (or one in every 33) are born with a birth defect. Despite the amazing advances of the Human Genome Project, and its promising prospects for future genetics research, birth defects are still the leading cause of infant mortality and childhood disability. In Alabama , nearly 2,000 babies are born with birth defects each year. The most common category of birth defect is "multiple congenital anomalies."
"Many birth defects are preventable," said Dr. Wladimir Wertelecki, director of the Alabama Birth Defects Surveillance and Prevention Program at the University of South Alabama . "There are steps that women can take to decrease their chance of having a baby with a birth defect," said Wertelecki, who is also professor and chair of medical genetics at USA .
Every day, all women of childbearing age should take a multivitamin that contains 400 micrograms (400 mcg or 0.4 mg) of folic acid. Folic acid consumption reduces the risk of having a baby with spina bifida, and possibly other birth defects including cleft lip or palate, and heart defects.
At the Medical Genetics/Birth Defects Clinic at USA , intensive diagnostic studies have led to the description of several unique congenital disorders. "This underscores that medical geneticists, while delivering clinical care, also contribute in expanding scientific knowledge," Wertelecki said.
January has been designated as Birth Defects Prevention Month to highlight the public health importance of birth defects. Public health campaigns to decrease high-risk behaviors and late (or no) prenatal care are making progress. However, there is more work to be done to support these important prevention messages, as well as treatment and care options including early intervention services for children and families affected by birth defects.
The Alabama Birth Defects Surveillance and Prevention Program arose in Mobile when USA 's Wertelecki and Mr. Charles Wood secured financing for a pilot program from the Alabama Developmental Disabilities Council.
Currently, the program conducts surveillance in 22 Alabama counties and is sustained by the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services and the Alabama Department of Mental Health/Mental Retardation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One goal of the program is to enhance prevention programs and improve access for children with birth defects to comprehensive, community-based, family centered care.
Surveillance registered nurses visit birthing facilities and specialty clinics to conduct surveillance activities and serve as a resource to communities by providing information to health professionals, patients and their families, and link appropriate families to services through their medical home.
The program is also conducting a statewide Spina Bifida (neural tube defect or NTD) Recurrence Prevention Campaign with the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Chapter of the March of Dimes, and the physician of record to provide folic acid to every woman who has had a pregnancy affected by a NTD.
For more information about birth defects prevention, contact Barbie Oliver, CRNP, at (251) 460-7500, 1-800-624-1865, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.usouthal.edu/genetics. For information on Alabama 's Early Intervention System (AEIS), call 1-800-543-3098.