Moving On: Expanded Screening for Filipino Newborns 10th Newborn Screening Convention

October 2, 2012

Moving On: Expanded Screening for Filipino Newborns
10th Newborn Screening Convention
SMX Convention Center
October 02, 2012

According to United Nations, “the number of children in developing countries who died before they reached the age of five has already decreased from 100 to 72 deaths per 1,000 live births between 1990 and 2008” [1].

While this is a positive development, it is far from the target posed by the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, which aims to reduce child mortality to 26.7 deaths per 1,000 live births by 2015. [2]

Today, almost nine million children still pass away each year before they even reach the age of five [3]. Nine million children are prevented from celebrating their fifth birthday, reading their first book and experiencing the small wonders that we have often take for granted.

According to the United Nations Development Programme report, under-five mortality rate in the Philippines has declined by 60% in the past 16 years from 80 deaths in 1990, to 32 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2006 [4]. With only three years left until the deadline to reduce child mortality, our government needs all the help and support it can get to save our children from unnecessary death.

I laud the Newborn Screening Society of the Philippines for unceasingly supporting the government in its healthcare agenda and providing an opportunity among advocates and practitioners to discuss ways by which we could further the cause of children’s health together.

I believe that the target for the 2015 Millennium Development Goals is within arm’s reach for as long as we develop a concerted front against premature deaths brought about by lack of information or apathy. Our children and the children of the next generation need not suffer from severe mental retardation, cataract, anemia, kernicterus, and even death when they could lead normal lives. Genetic or metabolic conditions like Congenital Hypothyroidism [5], Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia [6], Galactosemia [7], Phenylketonuria [8], and G6PD Deficiency [9] need not claim lives or cause complications if screened early on [10].

The problem lies with the lack of information and awareness that such procedure is available, especially for those who deliver their babies at home.

While I welcome the 26.4 percent increase in Newborn Screening coverage as noted in a report [11] conducted by the University of the Philippines, the National Institutes of Health, and the Newborn Screening Reference Center, I believe that we can still do better as we bridge the communication gap and expand screening for Filipino newborns.

If we were able to jump from 15.6% in 2007 to 42% in 2011 [12], the vision of providing newborns, regardless of socio-economic status, with a comprehensive, affordable, and accessible newborn screening should not be out of reach.

I believe that is the government’s mandate to protect and promote the rights of children to survival and to provide them an opportunity to live a “full and healthy development as individuals” [13].

It is for this reason that I supported the passage of Republic Act 9288, also known as the “Newborn Screening Act of 2004”, and filed Senate Bill 4, a proposed legislation aimed at institutionalizing mandatory universal healthcare coverage for poor families.

Moreover, I also authored Republic Act 9709, also known as the “Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Intervention Act of 2009” to establish measures to ensure that newborns and children who are deaf or hard of hearing have access to prevention, and early diagnosis of congenital hearing loss considering their “unique language, learning and communication needs” [14].

It is important that we create a public policy based on applied research and develop models to “ensure effective screening, referral and linkage with appropriate diagnostic, medical and qualified early intervention services, providers and programs within the community”.

But of course, legislative initiatives will be for naught if these are not implemented effectively and efficiently. With your knowledge and expertise, I trust that you will be my staunch partners in promoting a sustainable and effective solution to the problems hounding our children’s health.

We have a chance to change the course of history and touch the lives of millions of Filipino. With a united front against child mortality, I am confident that we will succeed in giving these children a chance to live.

There is no greater weapon, than a nation united by a common goal.
Thank you and good day.
1 United Nations Fact Sheet, 2010
2 United Nations Development Programme, 2012
3 United Nations Fact Sheet, 2010
4 United Nations Development Programme, 2012
5 Congenital Hypothyroidism results from lack or absence of thyroid hormone which is essential for the physical and mental development of a child. If the disorder is not detected and hormone replacement is not initiated within two (2) weeks, the baby with CH may suffer from growth and mental retardation (Newborn Screening Reference Center, 2012)
6 Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia is an endocrine disorder that causes severe salt loss, dehydration and abnormally high levels of male sex hormones in both boys and girls. If not detected and treated early, babies with CAH may die within 7-14 days. (Newborn Screening Reference Center, 2012)
7 Galactosemia is a condition in which babies are unable to process galactose, the sugar present in milk. Accumulation of excessive galactose in the body can cause many problems, including liver damage, brain damage and cataracts.
8 Phenylketonuria is a rare condition in which the baby cannot properly use one of the building blocks of protein called phenylalanine. Excessive accumulation of phenylalanine in the blood causes brain damage.
9 G6PD deficiency is a condition where the body lacks the enzyme called G6PD. Babies with this deficiency may have hemolytic anemia resulting from exposure to oxidative substances found in drugs, foods and chemicals
10 Newborn Screening Reference Center, Basic Information about Newborn Screening, 2012
11 Philippine Information Agency, Jan 2012
12 Philippine Information Agency, Jan. 2012
13 RA 9709, July 28, 2008 14 RA 9709, July 28, 2008