PREVENTION OF BIRTH DEFECTS IN EAST AFRICA: A REVIEW OF NATIONAL POLICIES|
Walani, SR; Hiebert, L; Pachón, G & Mwaisaka, R
Close to 8 million children are born annually with a serious birth defect, accounting for 5% of all newborn deaths globally. Many birth defects are associated with folic acid insufficiency, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), teenage or advanced age pregnancies, short birth intervals, and exposure to harmful substances. The majority of countries with the highest birth defects prevalence are in Africa, and the East African Community has made important commitments to improving reproductive, child, and adolescent health and nutrition. The aim of this review was to identify the advances and gaps in national policies addressing birth defect risk factors in the East African Community (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) in order to inform additional actions. National laws, regulations and policies were reviewed from the East African Community countries related to grain fortification and supplementation with folic acid; reducing too-early, unwanted and rapid successive pregnancies; and addressing NCDs and exposure to tobacco. All five countries have adopted a policy of mandatory folic acid fortification of wheat and maize flour. However, only in Kenya and Tanzania, are the folic acid levels in line with international recommendations. And, only Uganda has a policy requiring folic acid supplementation administration in the pre-conceptional period. The East African Community countries have made efforts to reduce too-early, unwanted and rapid successive pregnancies. All countries have banned child marriage and three of five countries have introduced laws to allow unrestricted access to contraception for adolescents. With regards to promoting prevention and control of NCDs and reducing populations’ exposure, compliance with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines is limited. Only two countries have developed multi-sectoral policies for NCDs and no countries comply fully with the recommendations of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Much work remains in ensuring that opportunities for prevention of birth defects are fully realized in the East African Community countries. This review revealed that all countries in the East African Community have, to some extent, adopted policies that are conducive to reducing the risk of birth defects in the region, but significant gaps remain in some key areas of either policy development or implementation.
Congenital abnormalities; Folic acid; Family planning services; Child marriage; Non-communicable Diseases