Africa: WHO Trains Health Workers From Nine African Countries On Improvement of Congenital Birth Defects Surveillance

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently conducted a Training of Trainers to develop and strengthen registration and surveillance systems for participants from nine African countries. They were also oriented on how to improve research and studies on the causes of congenital birth defects, diagnosis and prevention.

During the workshop, participants were availed with training materials and tools to be used by countries to develop country-specific action plans to strengthen and scale up birth defects surveillance systems. Participants also shared country experiences that will inform the next approaches to ensure that birth defects are eliminated from the African region.

While opening training the WHO Representative in Uganda, Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam pointed out that birth defects are known causes of infant and childhood deaths, chronic illness, and disability. "WHO estimates that of the 2.6 million newborn deaths globally, 11% are due to congenital anomalies," he noted.

Dr Yonas added that birth defects contribute to long-term disability with significant impact on individuals, families, health systems, and societies. "Birth defects and still-births cause grief, mental psychosocial problems to the mother and eventually make some women get pregnancies earlier than expected because of the pressure of family or herself feeling unworthy with an abnormal child," he said.

Echoing the same sentiments, the Director-General of Health services at the Ministry of Health who was represented by Dr Julius Simon Otim reiterated the fact that although congenital anomalies may be the result of one or more genetic, infectious, nutritional or environmental factors, it is often difficult to identify the exact causes. He reminded participants that some congenital anomalies can be prevented through vaccination, adequate intake of folic acid or iodine through fortification of staple foods or supplementation, and adequate antenatal care.

During the Sixty-third World Health Assembly (2010), Member States agreed to promote primary prevention and improve the health of children living with congenital anomalies. Since the resolution, WHO Departments of Maternal Newborn Child and Adolescent Health and Nutrition for Health and Development, in collaboration with other partners, have produced a package of tools including the WHO Atlas of selected Congenital Abnormalities. They have also convened annual training programmes on the surveillance and prevention of congenital anomalies and preterm births where country capacities have been strengthened.

Furthermore, WHO is also working with partners including Center for Disease Control and Prevention, International Clearinghouse for Birth Defects - Surveillance and Research, March of Dimes and other experts to revise the current Birth Defects Surveillance Atlas towards improving its usefulness. A birth defect surveillance manual is also under development by WHO and partners. It is hoped that these and more efforts will go a long away in improving surveillance of countries to address the growing numbers of congenital birth defects.

The 4 days training was conducted by WHO, ICBDSR, CDC, and March of Dimes. It was attended by participants from Botswana, Ethiopia, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

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