On World Down Syndrome Day, members of the Regional Institute for Mentally Handicapped (RIMH) in Sector 31 proposed to extend the facility of ante-natal screening to all maternity centres in the city. The aim behind this is to make Chandigarh a Down syndrome-free city.
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder in which a baby is born with an extra copy of chromosome 21. The symptoms include delay in physical growth, intellectual disability and characteristic features such as protruding tongue and slanting eyes. The syndrome affects about 1 in 800 babies. Late marriage and first pregnancy between the age of 32-35 years increases the risk of having a baby born with the syndrome.
In Chandigarh, which sees around 15,000 deliveries in a year, about 20 new cases of the syndrome are added every year. The RIMH itself looks after more than 158 children with Down syndrome, of which 51 are regular students at RIMH. According to experts, the syndrome can be detected before birth through antenatal screening tests. The tests conducted include ultrasound and blood tests. Screening can be done between 10-12 weeks and 16-20 weeks of pregnancy.
“At present, the Genetics centre is screening all pregnant women undergoing treatment at Government Medical College and Hospital, Sector 32. The centre has screened over 21,000 pregnant women since 2007 and picked up 16 DS cases so far,” said Dr Gurjit, consultant in-charge at the centre. Once detected, the mother can decide to keep or abort the baby.
Dr B S Chavan, Joint Director of RIMH and head of Genetics Centre said, “At present, the ante-natal screening is limited to GMCH-32. But we are planning to extend the facility in the entire city including GMSH-16, Sector 22 maternity centre, and the Civil Hospital in Manimajra. By April, screening will start in other hospitals too.”