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PIA Press Release
2006/10/31

Commentary: Newborn screening as part of national plan for infants

By Teresita B. Cardenas

Catarman, Northern Samar (31 October) -- Like a typical mother, President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo is pushing for newborn screening to be included in the government's national action plan for infants.

The main purpose of the program is to detect disorders a few days after birth and thus lead to prompt diagnosis and effective management. This health program is a must for all infants because babies with metabolic disorders usually looks normal at birth.

This program has been adopted worldwide to give children the best possible newborn care. In the Philippines about 51 hospitals offer this kind of service. Of the 51 hospitals 32 are in Metro Manila, 10 in Luzon, 5 in Visayas and 4 in Mindanao.

The newborn screening test is very simple. It only entails a prick on one of the outer sides of the heel and 3 to 4 drops of blood are collected on a special absorbent paper called a filter cord. This screening sample is collected within 48 hours after birth. After two weeks this process is repeated.

The baby will be tested for congenital hypothyroidism (CH), a disorder resulting from lack or absence of the thyroid hormone which is essential for the growth of the brain and body. This occurs when part or all of the thyroid gland fail to develop or an enzyme need to produce the said hormone. If the disorder is not detected and treatment is not prompt., the child's growth is stunted and he/she may suffer mental retardation.

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is a genetic disorder in which there is an abnormal production of hormones responsible for water balance and sex characteristics. It causes severe dehydration and abnormally high levels of male sex hormones in both sexes. This is easily treated but must be detected early to avoid serious illness due to salt loss.

Other disorders which could be detected among infants are galactosemia,penylketonuria, homocystuniria, and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency.

Galactosemia is a condition in which babies are unable to process a certain part of milk, sugar called galactose. Accumulation of galactose in the body can cause many problems, including liver and brain damage. Babies are treated by putting them on a special diet.

Penylketonuria (PKU) is an inherited diosorder caused by the absence of an enzyme needed by the body to utilize phenylalanine, a component of protein food. If not diagnosed and treated early, mental retardation will almost always occur. Treatment only involves a special diet and if started early, normal development is possible and retardation can be prevented.

Homocystinuria is another metabolic disorder resulting from the lack of absence of an enzyme needed to metabolize methionine, another component of protein food. If this component accumulates, eye and bone abnormalities, blood vessel problems and mental retardation may occur. Like PKU, treatment for homocystinuria also involves a special diet only.

Glucose -6-phosp[hate dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PD) is a very common human enzyme defect. It leads to anemia, yellow discoloration of the skin and other health problems if the patient is exposed to oxidative substances. Management involves prevention of intake or exposure to certain drugs, food and chemicals.

Needless to say, all these disorders could be cured if detected early.

The Department of Health is continuously educating parents that child's health shall begin with adequate pre-natal and post- natal care both for the mother and the baby.

Early detection of diseases is very important to prevent such diseases to become serious disorders. Health should be the primary concern of any government as this will spell the difference between a healthy and responsive citizenry from a sick society that will siphon the resources of the country. (PIA Northern Samar) [top]

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