Child survival: prevention of birth defects

Birth defects impact millions of families, including the family of Abdurahim, a baby boy born in Kyrgyzstan.

by Sven Simonsen
A male doctor in lab coat holds up a scan to the light
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/2016/Simon Lister

01 November 2017

The World Birth Defects Day is observed on 3 March to raise global awareness and increase opportunities for prevention of birth defects. Families who live in poverty tend to have a diet low in nutrients, negatively affecting the health of the pregnant woman, and the development of the child during pregnancy and later. Birth defects impact millions of families, including the family of Abdurahim*, a baby boy born  in Kyrgyzstan.

Born two months ago, Abdurahim* lies at the neurology unit of the National Centre for Motherhood and Childhood in the city of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. His mother Alima has been struggling to understand why her boy was born with spina bifida
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/Vlad Ushakov

Born two months ago, Abdurahim* lies at the neurology unit of the National Centre for Motherhood and Childhood in the city of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. His mother Alima has been struggling to understand why her boy was born with spina bifida

This severe neural defect appears in the very first month of pregnancy, when the woman may not even know she is pregnant. The risk of a child being born with it is dramatically higher if the mother is deficient in folic acid, one of the B vitamins.

Dr Bakytbek Karachev gently lifts up Abdurahim’s shirt, and releases a bandage that covers much of his spine. He explains that spina bifida is one of the most common neural tube defects, which are defects that affect the brain, spine, or spinal cord. It is a result of the child’s spinal column not closing properly during pregnancy.

Dr. Karachev
UNICEF

Dr. Bakytbek Karachev, head of the neurology unit of the National Centre for Motherhood and Childhood in the city of Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan)

Families who live in poverty tend to have a diet low in nutrients, negatively affecting the health of the pregnant woman, and the development of the child during pregnancy and later. A UNICEF-supported survey showed that as many as 42 per cent of non-pregnant women in Kyrgyzstan suffered from folic acid deficiency, and 27 per cent from iron deficiency anaemia; 61.6 per cent of pregnant women were iodine deficient.

Tursunhan Salieva (39) prepares bread for her family living in Shark village, Kara-Suu District, Osh province (Kyrgyzstan). Families who live in poverty tend to have a diet low in nutrients, negatively affecting the health of the pregnant woman
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/2016/Simon Lister

Tursunhan Salieva (39) prepares bread for her family living in Shark village, Kara-Suu District, Osh province (Kyrgyzstan). Families who live in poverty tend to have a diet low in nutrients, negatively affecting the health of the pregnant woman

In Kyrgyzstan, UNICEF advocates for early screening of pregnant women and bolsters flour fortification to prevent birth defects.

Zamir Shakirov, UNICEF consultant, discusses the diet of pregnant with Asel (28) in the maternity hospital in the city of Batken (Kyrgyzstan). UNICEF advocates for early screening of pregnant women to prevent as many neural tube defect cases as possible
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/2016/Simon Lister

Zamir Shakirov, UNICEF consultant, discusses the diet of pregnant with Asel (28) in the maternity hospital in the city of Batken (Kyrgyzstan). UNICEF advocates for early screening of pregnant women to prevent as many neural tube defect cases as possible

To help the Government enforce the law on fortification, UNICEF is supporting the preparation of by-laws to sanction millers who do not comply and providing technical support to build capacity of healthcare workers.

nurses have been trained on newborn child resuscitation
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/Vlad Ushakov

A health worker uses equipment for treatment of children with birth defects and prematurely born children at the National Centre for Motherhood and Childhood in the city of Bishkek. UNICEF trained over 1,000 doctors, midwives, nurses on newborn care.

Also, UNICEF continues its efforts to raise awareness among mothers, so that they will seek out the best foods for themselves and their children.

Photo newborn health prevention of birth defects
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/2016/Simon Lister

Amir (1.5 months) with his mother Sozul Eisheeva in the Karakol hospital, Issyk-Kul province (Kyrgyzstan). UNICEF raises awareness among mothers on the importance of nutrition, so that they will seek out the best foods for themselves and their children.