Projected impact of mandatory food fortification with folic acid on neurosurgical capacity needed for treating spina bifida in Ethiopia

Birth Defects Res. 2021 Mar 15;113(5):393-398. doi: 10.1002/bdr2.1857. Epub 2020 Dec 14.


Spina bifida, also known as meningomyelocele, is a major birth defect mostly associated with folate deficiency in the mother early in pregnancy. The prevalence of spina bifida is disproportionately high in Ethiopia compared to the global average; about 10,500 liveborn are affected annually. Many affected infants do not receive timely repair surgery. There are a high number of stillbirths, and neonatal, infant, and under-five deaths. Mandatory fortification of staple foods such as wheat and maize flour with folic acid, a B vitamin, is an effective primary prevention strategy for spina bifida. Survival in those with spina bifida increases if neurosurgical intervention is available soon after birth, along with continuous surgical and clinical aftercare throughout the lifespan. Currently, Ethiopia does not have mandatory food fortification for primary prevention or adequate neurosurgical capacity to meet the need to prevent adverse outcomes associated with spina bifida. We present in this paper two concurrent and complementary policy and practice solutions occurring in Ethiopia through global partnerships: (1) capacity-building of neurosurgery care through training programs; and (2) promoting national mandatory folic acid fortification of staples for primary prevention of spina bifida. These two policy and practice interventions ensure all affected infants can receive timely pediatric neurosurgery and sustained surgical aftercare through required neurosurgeon availability, and ensure primary prevention of spina bifida. Primary prevention of spina bifida frees up significant neurosurgical capacity in resource-poor settings that can then be directed to other critical neurosurgical needs thus lowering child mortality and morbidity.

Keywords: fortified foods; health policy; maternal child health; neural tube defects; neurosurgery.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Ethiopia
  • Female
  • Flour
  • Folic Acid*
  • Food, Fortified
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • Spinal Dysraphism*


  • Folic Acid