‘Infants born with defects highest in India... but trend can be reversed’

Fortifying food with folic acid can reduce number of disabled babies in country by 70%, says top genetic specialist

With India registering the highest number of infants born with disabilities, experts and doctors have opined that the trend can be reversed by providing pre-conception counselling, screening of the mother, pre-natal diagnosis and adequate care of the new-born.

"The number of infants with genetic disorders and birth defects in India is the highest in the world," said Sir Ganga Ram Hospital Center for Genetic Medicine Director and Society of Foetal Medicines President I C Verma. "This huge burden and mortality rates can be reduced by providing pre-conception counselling, screening of the mother, pre-natal diagnosis and adequate care of the new-born." Verma, who was recently in Chandigarh to attend a conference on pre-natal diagnosis and therapy, said that no one wants an abnormal child. So everyone should take the benefits of advanced technical diagnosis.

The director suggested that one of the major ways to reduce the number of disabled babies is fortification of food with folic acid. "Fortifying food with folic acid reduces the number of babies born with a deformed spine and skull, the most common of all birth defects. By the introduction of folic acid with food, 70 per cent of abnormal births can be stopped," Dr Verma informed.

He suggested that mothers should take folic acid after three months of pregnancy.

In many countries, including the US and European nations, wheat flour is fortified as it is important that women get enough of it before and during pregnancy to prevent major birth defects involving a baby's brain or spine. Leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans peas and nuts contain folic acid.

"But no matter how much leafy green vegetables a pregnant woman has, the quantity of folic acid can never be sufficient. She has to take folic acid medicines," Verma pointed out.

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