The importance of World Birth Defects Day on March 3 has been underscored after global attention turned towards the Zika virus, and scientists around the world are investigating the possible association between Zika virus infection and microcephaly.
Although congenital microcephaly is a rare birth defect, the suspected association with Zika virus infection during pregnancy underlines the need to establish birth defects surveillance in India, Dr Anita Kar, Director, Inter Disciplinary School of Health Sciences, University of Pune, told The Indian Express.
Kar along with Prajkta Bhide have submitted their research paper that has been published on February 23 this year in the online bulletin of World Health Organisation. The prevalence of microcephaly-affected births was calculated as the total number of babies (both live born and stillborn) with microcephaly per 10,000 births.
Based on their research that analysed several studies on birth defects in India, they estimated that one in 4,348 births will be affected with microcephaly in India. Assuming an annual occurrence of 25,595,000 births, the data estimates 5,887 babies with microcephaly will be born every year in India.
The suspected association between Zika virus infection during pregnancy and microcephaly reported from Brazil has been of special concern in India, where both vectors, A aegypti and A albopictus are abundant and responsible for endemic transmission of dengue and chikungunya. In view of the increased risk, Kar told The Indian Express that an important international conference on birth defects will be held in mid-March.
Birth defects refer to a group of diverse congenital conditions, which are responsible for stillbirths, neonatal deaths, chronic medical conditions and disability. Due to their low prevalence and high mortality, birth defects are not considered to be a significant health problem in India, points out Dr Aarti Kinikar, a member of the state expert committee on communicable diseases.
While there are few registries that record data on the number of birth defects, as part of the Government of India’s surveillance effort, BJ Medical College and Sassoon general hospital has been identified by Maharashtra state to set up a birth defects registry. The registry provides data on six common birth defects among babies.