TWO thirds of neural tube defects ù NTD ù which include anencephaly and other conditions with multi-factorial causes including genetic and environmental factors, are preventable.
This was stressed by the head of the Colonial War Memorial Hospital's Paediatrics Department, Dr Joseph Kado, following the death of a child suffering from anencephaly, the condition in which a baby's brain or head does not close resulting in the brain not forming properly.
He said more advocacy for better pre-pregnancy planning and early obstetric care among women of child-bearing age and their partners was needed.
The head of the hospital's Specialist Obstetrics and Gynaecology Unit, Dr James Fong, was in agreement, saying: "Promoting an environment in which people prepare and plan to get pregnant and then book early will require the collaborative effort of the Health Ministry with church groups and charitable organisations.
"Targeting high risk communities like squatter settlements would be a starting point."
Dr Kado said the ministry had long pushed actively for wellness and preventive health care and advocated for couples to plan their family and allow women to be in the best physical state in preparation for pregnancy.
He said this meant ensuring no deficiency in folic acid prior to pregnancy because taking it after the first two months of pregnancy served no preventive role for NTDs as the embryo would have completed most of its formation by then.
He said NTDs could be detected in early pregnancy and if women booked early enough and were not prepared to carry a foetus with an NTD to full term, termination could be considered although preventing the NTD in the first place was more important.
"The MOH has pushed for the fortification of flour with folate to try and improve the levels to prevent NTDs and other complications of folate deficiency.
"Unfortunately when the advice is not heeded, the Ministry of Health bears the burden for much of this preventable condition."