Total prevention of folic acid-preventable spina bifida and anencephaly would reduce child mortality in India: Implications in achieving Target 3.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals

Birth Defects Res. 2018 Mar 15;110(5):421-428. doi: 10.1002/bdr2.1175. Epub 2017 Dec 1.


Background: The potential to reduce child mortality by preventing folic acid-preventable spina bifida and anencephaly (FAP SBA) is inadequately appreciated. To quantify possible reduction in FAP SBA-associated child mortality in low- and middle-income countries, we conducted an analysis to demonstrate in India, a country with more than 25 million births and 1.2 million under-five deaths each year, the decrease in neonatal, infant, and under-five mortality that would occur through total prevention of FAP SBA.

Methods: We estimated the percent reductions in neonatal, infant, and under-five mortality that would have occurred in India in 2015 had all of FAP SBA been prevented. We also estimated the contributions of these reductions toward India's Sustainable Development Goals on child mortality indicators. We considered the overall prevalence of spina bifida and anencephaly in India as 5 per 1,000 live births, of which 90% were preventable with effective folic acid intervention.

Results: In the year 2015, folic acid interventions would have prevented about 116,070 cases of FAP SBA and 101,565 under-five deaths associated with FAP SBA. Prevention of FAP SBA would have reduced annually, neonatal, infant, and under-five mortality by 10.2%, 8.9%, and 8.3%, respectively. These reductions would have contributed 18.5% and 17.2% to the reductions in neonatal and under-five mortality, respectively, needed by India to achieve its 2030 Sustainable Developmental Goal Target 3.2 addressing preventable child mortality.

Conclusions: Total prevention of FAP SBA clearly has a significant potential for immediate reductions in neonatal, infant, and under-five mortality in India, and similarly other countries.

Keywords: India; anencephaly; child mortality; mortality; spina bifida; sustainable development goals.

MeSH terms

  • Anencephaly / mortality
  • Anencephaly / prevention & control*
  • Child Mortality*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Folic Acid
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Infant
  • Infant Mortality*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Spinal Dysraphism / mortality
  • Spinal Dysraphism / prevention & control*


  • Folic Acid