The UT Health Department is set to launch a ‘pre-natal and newborn screening’ programme on March 21, the World Down Syndrome Day.
Officials said this is the first time in the country when such a programme is being launched in a city to cover all pregnant women and new-born babies.
Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder, whose symptoms include delay in physical growth, intellectual disability and characteristic features such as protruding tongue and slanting eyes.
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In Chandigarh, one in every 15,000 babies is born with Down Syndrome, as per a Regional Institute for Mentally Handicapped (RIMH) survey. RIMH in Sector 31 looks after more than 195 children with Down Syndrome in the city.
Experts say Down syndrome can be detected before birth through ante-natal screening, which includes ultrasound and blood tests. Screening can be done from 10 to 12 weeks, and from 16 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Besides Down Syndrome, pre-natal tests will be done to detect neural tube defects because of which babies are either stillborn or die shortly after birth or are born paralytic. If the tests are positive, the mother can decide to keep or abort the baby.
The UT Health Department is going to make compulsory genetic screening tests for all pregnant women in the city. The screening will be done at the Government Multi-Specialty Hospital in Sector 16, Sector 22 maternity centre, and the Civil Hospital in Manimajra.
“On World Down Syndrome Day, the Adviser and the Home-cum-Health Secretary will launch the screening programme. Initially, the programme will be run on pilot basis at GMSH-16, where screening has already been started, and after a few months, it will be expanded to the entire city which witnesses about 30,000 deliveries every year,” said Dr Gurjit Kaur, consultant in-charge at the genetic centre in the Government Medical College and Hospital, Sector 32.
The genetics centre already screens all pregnant women undergoing treatment at GMCH-32.
Home-cum-Health Secretary Anurag Agarwal said that the administration has written to the PGI to make screening mandatory for all pregnant women and new-born babies. The administration is also writing to the Chandigarh chapter of the Indian Medical Association to cover private clinics. The GMCH-32 is ready to conduct tests free.
On the newborn, tests will be done to detect G6PD deficiency, congenital hypothyroidism, and congenital adrenal hyperplasia. If detected early, the babies can be put on treatment early to prevent further complications.
The G6PD deficiency is an inherited condition in which the body doesn’t have enough enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), which helps red blood cells function normally. This deficiency can cause anemia. Congentinal hypothyroidism causes mental retardation and affects growth.
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia is a genetic condition causing swelling of the adrenal glands.
The condition is associated with a decrease in the blood level of the stress hormone and an increase in the level of male sex hormones which can lead to death in male babies and unusual ganitalia in female babies.