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Birth Defects Around the World

Baby smilingEvery year, about 3-6% of infants worldwide are born with a serious birth defect. This represents millions of babies and families with life-altering conditions like spina bifida and congenital heart defects.

How Do Birth Defects Affect Babies Worldwide?

Birth defects are common, costly, and critical. Most of us have been touched by someone living with a birth defect—a family member, friend, or neighbor.

The Zika virus disease outbreak and its impact on birth defects have emphasized the need for and benefits of international collaboration and communication about birth defects prevention.1

CDC is working with organizations around the world to bring attention to this global public health issue.

Infographic: Every year, about 3-6 percent of infants worldwide are born with a serious birth defect. Learn more at

Every year, about 3-6% of infants worldwide are born with a seirous birth defect. Learn more about birth defects.

Birth defects can affect babies regardless of where they are born, their ethnicities, or their races. Birth defects are one of the leading causes of death for infants and young children in some countries.2 Each year, about 3-6% of infants worldwide are born with a serious birth defect. Those who survive and live with these conditions are at an increased risk for lifelong disabilities.

The goals to raise awareness about birth defects and increase opportunities for prevention of birth defects include the following:

  • Increasing the number of birth defects monitoring programs globally
  • Improving existing birth defects monitoring programs
  • Improving access to care for people with birth defects
  • Continuing research to identify causes of birth defects, particularly if they can be modified in order to prevent birth defects

CDC’s Global Birth Defects Initiative

Birth Defects COUNT (Countries and Organizations United for Neural Tube Defects Prevention) is CDC’s global initiative to reduce death and lifelong disability resulting from neural tube defects. Neural tube defects are serious birth defects of the brain and spine. They are a major cause of death and lifelong disability worldwide. Each year, there are more than 300,000 babies born around the world with a neural tube defect.3 Many neural tube defects can be prevented by adding folic acid, a B vitamin, to foods like bread and rice, a process called folic acid fortification.

Since the start of folic acid fortification in the United States in 1998, the number of babies born with neural tube defects has decreased by 35%. This means that more than 1,300 U.S. babies are now born each year without a neural tube defect.4 Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the addition of folic acid to corn masa flour. Corn masa flour is used to make foods such as corn chips, tortillas, and taco shells.


  1. Moore CA, Staples JE, Dobyns WB, Pessoa A, Ventura CV, Fonseca EB, Ribeiro EM, Ventura LO, Neto NN, Arena JF, Rasmussen SA. Characterizing the pattern of anomalies in congenital Zika syndrome for pediatric clinicians. JAMA Pediatr. 2016 Nov 3 [published online ahead of print].
  2. World Health Organization. Congenital anomalies. [Internet] Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization [cited 2017 Jan 3].
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC grand rounds: additional opportunities to prevent neural tube defects with folic acid fortification. MMWR Morb Mort Wkly Rep. 2010 Aug 13;59(31):980-4.
  4. Williams J, Mai CT, Mulinare J, Isenberg J, Flood TJ, Ethen M, Frohnert B, Kirby RS. Updated estimates of neural tube defects prevented by mandatory folic acid fortification – United States 1995-2011. MMWR Morb Mort Wkly Rep. 2015 Jan 6;64(1):1-5.