By: Cynthia A. Moore, M.D., Ph.D., Director, Division of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (CDC)
Birth defects are common, costly, and critical conditions. To increase global awareness of these conditions, March 3, 2015, marks the first annual World Birth Defects Day.
Birth defects can affect any child, regardless of race or ethnicity—any child like Ashley and her mother, Kayte Thomas. During her first trimester of pregnancy, Kayte went in for a routine ultrasound when her world was turned upside down. Her heart sunk when “Let’s listen to the heartbeat,” turned to “Hmm… I’d like to take a closer look at that.” The doctors found that her unborn daughter, Ashley, had gastroschisis, a birth defect of the abdominal wall in which the baby’s intestines stick outside of the body through a hole beside the belly button. Despite incredible challenges, the doctors said Ashley’s chance of survival was good. After several surgeries and therapeutic interventions, Ashley is now a vivacious 9-year-old. She is an inquisitive 3rd grader who enjoys reading and writing stories, plays piano, runs track, loves her friends, and wants to grow up to be a scientist.
Kayte’s greatest hope is that World Birth Defects Day marks the beginning of another decade of change by addressing the disparities in survival rates of children with birth defects around the world. Over the years, she has befriended many doctors around the world who are champions for children with gastroschisis and through whom she has been given a glimpse of what it means to have difficulty accessing medical care or technology. From Gerardo, in Mexico, Kayte learned that these babies can be saved by fashioning a silo out of Ziplocs and twist ties. From Dahlia, in Malaysia, she learned that proximity to a major hospital is of vital importance, and that infection and shortage of surgeons are often the biggest barriers. From Obikili, in Nigeria, she was reminded that when doctors are battling malaria and pneumonia, there is often little time for proper prenatal diagnosis or care – and these babies rarely survive. Regardless of where Ashley was born in the United States, her chance of survival would still have been excellent. However, children born in countries with fewer resources and competing priorities have significantly lowered chances of survival.
Every year, nearly 8 million babies around the world—6% of all births—are born with a serious birth defect. In many countries, birth defects are one of the leading causes of death in infants and young children. Babies who survive and live with these conditions are at an increased risk for long-term disabilities. Through World Birth Defects Day, we can work together on a global scale to ensure that a diagnosis of a major birth defect can be a story of survival everywhere.
How can you be a part of World Birth Defects Day?
In this inaugural year, we invite you to join our efforts to help raise awareness of birth defects. We encourage you to share your stories on social media to raise awareness about the impact of birth defects on you and your family, using the hashtag, #WorldBDDay. We also hope you will sign up for the World Birth Defects Day ThunderClap, a quick and easy way to show your support for this inaugural event. Let’s work toward a world of healthier women, healthier pregnancies, and healthier babies.