New Delhi, Feb. 5: UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi is scheduled to launch tomorrow India’s first nationwide programme for universal screening of children for a range of birth defects, deficiencies and disabilities.
The health ministry said the programme, to be launched in Palghar, a tribal block in Maharashtra, would be conducted through schools and mobile teams to initially screen children up to the age of six.
The initiative, a long-standing demand by members of India’s medical community, is aimed at improving the quality of life of children through early detection and management of birth defects.
The health ministry has estimated that 1.7 million babies with birth defects are born in India each year, and that such defects account for 9 per cent of newborn deaths and 4 per cent of deaths among children under five.
“Many disabilities or disorders can be picked up early and easily corrected through medical management,” said a senior paediatrician in a government hospital.
Paediatricians who have long urged screening of newborn babies expect that such a programme should start with looking for deafness and visual disabilities, as well as congenital hypothyroidism and obvious birth defects.
Congenital hypothyroidism needs to be detected within three or four weeks after birth to avoid its severe health effects. But early therapy can allow babies to have perfectly normal lives.
Health officials believe the programme will, in the long run, prove economical as it will reduce the expenditure that families might have to incur if the conditions remain undetected and untreated.
The health ministry said the screening would be conducted through school health services and “dedicated mobile health teams” in every block. Each team will have two doctors qualified in traditional medicine, a trained nurse and a pharmacist.
The screening will be offered in all government and government-aided schools.