A Molecular Biologist, Dr Bamidele Iwalokun, has called for the inclusion of prenatal screening in the Nigeria Newborn Care Policy for early detection of birth defects and disorders.
Iwalokun, who is also a Medical Researcher with the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), made the call in an interview with newsmen in Lagos.
He described prenatal screening as “a safe procedure that identify small subgroups of expectant mothers that are likely to have a baby with a particular birth defect”.
According to him, prenatal screening is also important to determine the health and condition of an unborn foetus.
“For example, pregnant women who are at risk of ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage should have their blood evaluated for levels of beta-hCG hormone.
“There are varieties of prenatal screening that can help to identify if a pregnant woman is at an increased risk of carrying a baby with certain birth defects.
“This test is used to determine the size and position of the foetus, as well as any potential abnormalities in the structure of the growing bones and organs of the baby.
“Screenings can be done to check a baby for infection or to evaluate the seriousness of a Rhesus incompatibility between mother and foetus.
“These tests identify babies with the Down syndrome, genetic conditions such as sickle cell disorder and babies with a condition called an open neural tube defect.
“An open neural tube defect is also known as spinal bifida and is a condition where the spinal cord or brain does not form correctly very early in the pregnancy,” Iwalokun said.
According to him, we also have glucose screening test which checks for gestational diabetes.
“This condition can lead to the growth of very large babies and can cause problems in the infant, such as low blood sugar,’’ he said.
Iwalokun also called for public awareness on the need for prenatal screening to help to manage the remaining weeks of the pregnancy and determining the outcome of the pregnancy.
He said that the screening would also aid planning for possible complications with the birth process and planning for problems that might occur in the newborn.
“We need to have this screening as part of our Newborn Care Policy.
“This is important because disorders and birth defects come in all shapes and sizes and are often undiagnosed or diagnosed too late due to lack of awareness around prenatal testing and its benefits.
“While many birth defects or disorders are not fatal, some are, and many can significantly impact on quality of life.
“That is why it is so important that Nigerians take a more proactive role in getting to know and understand these procedures.
“It can be through education, prenatal testing or by speaking with a medical counsellor,’’ he said.