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Global Health Programs: Global Initiative to Eliminate Folic Acid-preventable Neural Tube Defects


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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides the expertise needed to strengthen the surveillance of neural tube defects and expand the reach of folic acid fortification worldwide for the prevention of these birth defects. Folic acid, a B vitamin, is known to reduce the risk of neural tube defects when a woman takes 400 micrograms daily before and during early pregnancy.

Program Description

Worldwide, there are more than 300,000 babies born with neural tube defects each year. CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities is working with the World Health Organization and other partners on a global initiative, Birth Defects COUNT, to reduce death and lifelong disability due to neural tube defects. The three focus areas of Birth Defects COUNT are science, partnerships, and public health policy.

Where We Work

  • Asia
  • Africa
  • The Americas
  1. Science. Develop and strengthen regional and in-country abilities to monitor birth defects, and develop and strengthen laboratory capacity to measure the amount of folic acid present in the blood (blood folate levels).
  2. Partnership. Engage a global network of partners who are experts in conducting folic acid interventions, birth defects prevention, and surveillance activities.
  3. Policy. Educate and inform decision-makers on the benefits of fortification policies for neural tube defects prevention.

Birth Defects COUNT supports the United Nations Millennium Development Goal 4 to reduce the mortality rate of children under-five and help meet the 63rd World Health Assembly resolution on birth defects . This resolution asks Member States to:

  • Prevent birth defects wherever possible;
    Implement screening programs; and
  • Provide ongoing support and care to children with birth defects and their families.

Public Health Impact

  • Increasing folic acid intake among women of childbearing age can help prevent 150,000-210,000 of the more than 300,000 neural tube defects that occur each year in low- and middle-resource countries.
  • With partners , CDC will help to
  • Improve surveillance of neural tube defects and other birth defects;
  • Monitor folic acid fortification efforts; and
  • Improve ways to measure blood folate levels.
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  • Page last reviewed: September 3, 2013
  • Page last updated: September 3, 2013
  • Content source: Global Health
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