World Birth Defects Day 2022: Global Efforts to Prevent Birth Defects and Support Families

Summary

  • March 3 is recognized annually as World Birth Defects Day.
  • About 3%–6% of infants worldwide are born with a serious birth defect every year.
  • CDC and partners work globally to reduce stigma, increase opportunities for prevention and care, and raise awareness about the impact of birth defects worldwide.

A mother and her child enjoy bonding.
A mother and her child enjoy bonding.

March 3 is recognized annually as World Birth Defects Day. Every year, about 3%–6% of infants worldwide are born with a serious birth defect. These numbers reflect real children and families. Birth defects affect infants regardless of birthplace, race, or ethnicity. They are a leading cause of death for infants and young children globally. Those who survive and live with these conditions are at increased risk for lifelong disabilities.

Each year on World Birth Defects Day, global partners come together to raise awareness about the impact of birth defects worldwide, reduce stigma, and increase opportunities for prevention and care. CDC’s Division of Birth Defects and Infant Disorders regularly partners with CDC’s Center for Global Health to advance these efforts, and some examples of these efforts are below:

More than 8 million babies worldwide are born with a serious birth defect each year.
More than 8 million babies worldwide are born with a serious birth defect each year.

Zika Virus. During the 2016 Zika virus outbreak, CDC worked with partners around the world to understand the impact of Zika virus during pregnancy. Recently, Brazilian scientists and CDC collaborated on researchexternal icon studying more than 11.7 million births in Brazil. For children with congenital Zika syndrome, the risk of death was 11 times higher than the risk of death among children without congenital Zika syndrome. The highest rate of death was found after the first year of life. These findings reinforce the importance of preventing Zika virus infection in people who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

Pregnant People Undergoing Antiretroviral Therapy for HIV. In May 2018, a Botswana study raised concerns that dolutegravir, an antiretroviral treatment for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), might increase the risk for certain birth defects of the brain and spine. This discovery ignited rapid surveillance and research efforts to help the global health community better understand the potential risks of dolutegravir. Researchers continue to look at these types of treatments and can help inform appropriate counseling for people who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and receiving HIV treatment.

Help raise awareness about birth defect prevention and care on March 3rd for #WorldBDDay!
Help raise awareness about birth defect prevention and care on March 3rd for #WorldBDDay!

Congenital Rubella Syndrome and Rubella-Containing Vaccine. Rubella infection during pregnancy can result in miscarriage, fetal death, stillbirth, or a group of birth defects known as congenital rubella syndrome. One dose of rubella-containing vaccine offers lifelong protection. This means that, when received as a child, the vaccine provides protection from rubella later in life, including during pregnancy. Rubella is being eliminated globally with more babies protected in lower- to middle-income countries than ever before. Seventy percent of all infants worldwide have access to rubella vaccine. A February 2022 study in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) reported that by 2020, 173 (89%) of 194 countries had introduced rubella-containing vaccines, and 93 (48%) had been verified as having stopped rubella transmission.

Global Birth Defects Surveillance. In 2020, CDC, in collaboration with the World Health Organization and other global partners, updated the Birth Defects Surveillance: A Manual for Programme Managers and its accompanying Quick Reference Handbook. These resources are for frontline healthcare professionals who are diagnosing and collecting data on birth defects. They can help countries build and strengthen birth defects monitoring and expand the availability of accurate birth defects data worldwide. Recently, an appexternal icon for the Quick Reference Handbook, which includes the illustrations and checklists, was created for use in the field.

These global efforts to better understand causes of birth defects help us develop strategies for prevention. Join us this World Birth Defects Day to raise awareness and support affected families. Learn moreexternal icon about how to participate.

Page last reviewed: March 2, 2022
Content source: Global Health