|A young woman with spina bifida in South Africa. Child at right belongs to the woman in the wheelchair, helped to be born healthy because the mother took the B vitamin folic acid beginning before pregnancy.|
A new report estimates that eight million children each year are born with serious disorders caused at least partly by their genes. That is about six percent of all births worldwide. The report is from the March of Dimes organization.
Researchers found that about ninety-five percent of births with serious defects happen in the developing world. They say Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Benin have the highest rates of birth defects. Others with the ten highest rates include Burkina Faso, the Palestinian territories, the United Arab Emirates and Tajikistan. And they include Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.
The study links high birth-defect rates in developing countries to poor health care and nutrition. The researchers also note higher than average rates of marriage among blood relatives, and of older women having babies.
The most common genetic defects include heart disorders, Down syndrome and incorrectly formed backbones and brains. They also include disorders of the red blood cells, such as sickle cell disease and thalassemia.
The report says hundreds of thousands of other children are born with serious defects that are caused during pregnancy. Pregnant women risk harm to their babies from alcohol and tobacco. There is also a risk if they get infected with diseases like rubella or syphilis, or do not get enough nutrients like iodine and folic acid.
The March of Dimes says the report identifies for the first time what it calls the "hidden" worldwide extent of birth defects. Researchers collected information on almost two hundred countries. They found that every year more than three million children under the age of five die from birth defects. Those who survive may have mental or physical problems for life.
The report suggests a number of ways to deal with the international problem. One step is to make sure women have a healthy diet during their reproductive years. Another is to test men and women to identify those at higher risk of having children with genetic disorders.
But the report says the first step is to educate people about the problem of birth defects and ways to prevent or treat them. The March of Dimes says the ideas in the report could reduce death and disability from birth defects by up to seventy percent.
This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. You can read and listen to our reports at voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Steve Ember.