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Mandatory newborn screening service pushed

By Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:52:00 04/13/2009

Filed Under: Health treatment, Children, Statistics, Laws

MANILA, Philippines?Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on health, has called on the government to conduct a nationwide information campaign so that parents can avail themselves of the benefits of the mandatory Newborn Screening Service (NBS) program.

NBS is a policy instituted since the enactment of Republic Act No. 9288 (Newborn Screening Act) in 2004 to screen newborns for certain metabolic birth defects right after birth.

Metabolic birth defects?chemical changes that take place within living cells?can cause physical problems, mental retardation and, in some cases, death.

The Department of Health (DoH) says most babies with metabolic disorders look normal at birth.

In a statement, Legarda said that the DoH records showed that only 15.6 percent or 234,000 of the 1.5 million babies born annually have undergone NBS procedures in 2007.

Blood from baby?s foot

NBS is conducted by extracting blood from an infant?s foot to test for five illnesses?congenital hypothyrodism, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, galactosemia, phenylketonuria and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency.

The blood specimen is taken before the baby leaves the hospital, or at least 24 hours after birth, says the DoH.

Because of this dismal compliance to the law, Legarda said an awareness campaign on newborn screening was necessary.

Asked about the benefits of NBS, Legarda explained that early detection and treatment could increase the afflicted infant?s chances of having a healthy development.

?Filipinos may still be lacking the information they need to know on the benefits of newborn screening,? said Legarda, calling on the DoH to boost its information campaign on newborn screening so as to realize a wider coverage of the mandatory testing on infants.

?People may have already known about it, but that they could not seem to avail of the program because, maybe, they don?t know the procedure yet,? Legarda said.

Legarda said the DoH should conduct a nationwide awareness campaign by mobilizing the country?s health workers, who should first undergo seminars for the purpose.

?The country?s health workers, if properly given crash course on newborn screening, could be a good tool to create massive awareness, especially in far-flung areas,? she said.

The senator recognized, however, the need for a huge capital for the establishment of screening centers all over the country.

Hearing loss detection

RA 9288 does not include the universal newborn hearing screening program for the prevention, early diagnosis and intervention of hearing loss among children for which Legarda has filed a separate bill?Senate Bill No. 2390.

SB 2890 has been approved by the Senate on third reading.

A close look at the statistics on the number of children born annually should give the government enough reason to ensure the full implementation of the program under RA 9288, said Legarda.

In rationalizing her separate bill on hearing loss early detection, Legarda cited another gloomy statistics?an estimated 150 Filipinos are born daily with hearing loss, and 27,000 babies born profoundly and bilaterally deaf each year.

She said that hearing loss among children was a ?metabolic disorder? which was not included in the law despite being five times more frequent than most of the metabolic diseases mentioned in RA 9288.

Unlike the five illnesses that can be detected by extracting blood from the foot of an infant, screening hearing loss cannot be detected through the blood, she said.

Thus the need for the passage of SB 2390, which will mandate hospitals to test newborn babies for hearing loss before they are discharged from the medical facility.

?It should be the responsibility of the parents and the doctors attending to the newly born to make sure that hearing loss tests are performed,? said Legarda, adding:

?The health practitioners that assisted in the delivery outside hospitals shall have the obligation to inform the parents or guardians that there is a law on mandatory hearing loss screening and shall likewise ensure that newborns are screened within three months of life.?

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