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Folic acid must at childbearing age: Doctors

Folic acid is needed to prevent neural tube defects (NTDs) in newborns, which affect their brain and spine

Debraj Mitra Calcutta Published 03.03.23, 03:02 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File Picture

Folic acid should be given to all women of childbearing age on a daily basis and not after a test confirms pregnancy, doctors said at an awareness drive on Wednesday.

Folic acid is needed to prevent neural tube defects (NTDs) in newborns, which affect their brain and spine. NTDs are major birth defects of the baby’s brain (anencephaly) and spine (spina bifida).


The delivery of folic acid should be institutionalised, said a doctor. Salt, rice or wheat should be fortified with folic acid at the level of distributors or wholesalers, he added.

“Women are given folic acid after the pregnancy is detected to prevent anaemia. That usually happens six weeks into the pregnancy. But in the foetus, the spinal cord forms within three to four weeks of pregnancy. The spinal cord takes shape before most women can confirm their pregnancy,” said neurosurgeon Sandip Chatterjee, who was part of a news conference at a Maidan club on Wednesday.

“Giving folic acid to pregnant women hardly serves any purpose. It should be given to all women of childbearing age. It should be institutionalised. A dosage of 400 micrograms has to be given daily, mixed with salt, rice or wheat. Ideally, it should be given before the salt, rice or wheat reaches retailers. It should be done at the level of distributors or wholesalers,” he told Metro.

In India, iodine is mixed with salt to prevent thyroid disorders. Similarly, folic acid can be added to salt to prevent disability in the spinal cord, he said.

Paediatric surgeon Subhasis Saha was with Chatterjee at the press conference on Wednesday.

“All patients with spina bifida are born with normal kidneys but many of them go on to develop renal failure later. This is fully preventable,” he said.

The incidence of this condition varies between four and 10 per 1,000 live births in the country, said doctors. The awareness campaign was organised by Spina Bifida Foundation of Bengal and the Indian Society for Pediatric Neurosurgery, in collaboration with the Press Club.

“We have a meeting in the AIIMS, New Delhi, where we plan to prepare a draft resolution to be sent to the Union health minister,” said Chatterjee.

Folic acid is provided as part of more than one government drive, both at the Centre and state levels. But either the dosage is not sufficient or the target recipients are only pregnant women, the doctors pointed out.

“Public awareness is very crucial. Awareness of the importance of folic acid is lacking in many women. Even some of the doctors are not aware,” Chatterjee said.

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