Child and adolescent health and development


Prevention and control of birth defects in South-East Asia Region: Strategic Framework (2013-2017)

Publication details

Publication date: 2013


Member States in the South-East Asia have observed declining child mortality over the past two decades. This decline has been possible because of improved health services and a reduction in child mortality from causes of improved health services and a reduction in child mortality from causes such as birth asphyxia, infectious diseases and malnutrition. However, mortality from birth defects has remained constant, which has resulted in it becoming a larger proportional cause of infant mortality. Birth defects are not only life-threatening but also result in long-term disability, and negatively affect individuals, families, health care systems and societies. Several interventions have been shown to be effective for prevention of birth defects in a variety of social and economic settings.

In recognition of this public health priority, World Health Assembly resolutions have been adopted that call for global action for surveillance, prevention and treatment of birth defects within the comprehensive maternal, newborn, child health, and infant and young child nutrition plans. In response, the WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia has, in collaboration with Member States, developed a Strategic Framework for prevention and control of birth defects in the next five years.

The goal of the Regional Strategic Framework is the significant reduction of preventable birth defects in the South-East Asia Region to contribute to the achievement of MDG4 and beyond.


  • Reduce the prevalence of folic acid-preventable neural tube defects by 35%;
  • Reduce the number of thalassaemia births by 50%;
  • Reduce congenital rubella;
  • Eliminate congenital syphilis.

In the context of existing situation in the Region, this Framework provides strategic directions to guide Member States in developing and strengthening birth defects surveillance and prevention programmes with consideration to integrate these within existing public health programmes.

Strategic Directions:

  • Establish or strengthen national policies and programmes for birth defects prevention and control;
  • Develop and strengthen national birth defects surveillance, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms;
  • Integrate birth defects prevention and control strategies into public health, maternal and child health, nutrition and other relevant programmes;
  • Expand and strengthen national capacity for implementation of birth defects prevention and control programmes;
  • Develop and expand national, regional and international multisectoral partnerships and networks to support birth defects prevention and control programmes.

The Framework also outlines the roles and responsibilities of Member States, WHO and partners.