Urgent global opportunities to prevent birth defects

Semin Fetal Neonatal Med. 2014 Jun;19(3):153-60. doi: 10.1016/j.siny.2013.11.008. Epub 2013 Dec 14.


Birth defects are an urgent global health priority. They affect millions of births worldwide. But their prevalence and impact are largely under-ascertained, particularly in middle- and low-income countries. Fortunately, a large proportion of birth defects can be prevented. This review examines the global prevalence and primary prevention methods for major preventable birth defects: congenital rubella syndrome, folic acid-preventable spina bifida and anencephaly, fetal alcohol syndrome, Down syndrome, rhesus hemolytic disease of the fetus and the newborn; and those associated with maternal diabetes, and maternal exposure to valproic acid or iodine deficiency during pregnancy. Challenges to prevention efforts are reviewed. The aim of this review is to bring to the forefront the urgency of birth defects prevention, surveillance, and prenatal screening and counseling; and to help public health practitioners develop population-based birth defects surveillance and prevention programs, and policy-makers to develop and implement science-based public health policies.

Keywords: Birth defects; Congenital abnormalities; Population surveillance; Prevalence; Prevention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Congenital Abnormalities / diagnosis
  • Congenital Abnormalities / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis