Child and adolescent health and development

Prevention and control of birth defects

Owing to improvement in the management of neonatal infections and birth asphyxia, birth defects are increasingly seen as a significant cause of stillbirths and neonatal deaths. Preventing birth defects-related mortality would contribute to further reductions in child mortality in all countries, whether they have achieved the MDG target or need to accelerate progress for achieving the MDG 4 target.

In view of this, the World Health Assembly adopted Resolution WHA 63.17 in May 2010, which identified actions to address birth defects to impact stillbirths and neonatal mortality.

In the South-East Asia Region, the availability of epidemiological data and the burden of birth defects remains unknown because none of the Member States has a national surveillance mechanism for birth defects. Although small hospital-based studies have been conducted in some Member States, at this stage national-level estimates are available only from the Global March of Dimes Report 2006.

In response, the WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia in collaboration with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) has organized significant activities in this area. A Regional Expert Group Meeting was organized in December 2011 that highlighted the need for capacity building in birth defects surveillance in countries to define the magnitude of the problem as well as monitor the progress of the birth defects prevention programmes. A Regional Programme Managers' Meeting was also organized to review the current situation, disseminate global evidence and experience on prevention of birth defects and advocate for development of national strategies in the Member States. A Regional Workshop on Birth Defects Surveillance has been organized to develop capacity for birth defects surveillance in the South-East Asia Region.

Recent meetings and reports