Studies have shown that women who begin taking a folic acid supplement or eat foods fortified with folic acid before becoming pregnant have a decreased risk of having a child with a Neural Tube Defect (NTD).
NTDs occur when the neural tube fails to completely close during the early weeks of pregnancy. There are various types of NTDs varying in severity. Some are incurable and cause death within a few hours after birth, while others require a lifetime of surgical procedures in an attempt to give the individual as much independence as possible.
Children born with NTDs experience a lot of unnecessary suffering. These types of birth defects are preventable.
In 2003, a number of countries in Africa developed health policies and regulations that would greatly reduce the number of children born with a NTD. South Africa lead the way by fortifying its staple foods with folic acid. They did this in hopes of providing women with the necessary daily dose of the vitamin and consequently decreasing the number of children born with NTDs.
A 2008 ecological study conducted by the University of Cape Town showed an overall 31 percent decline in the prevalence of NTDs after fortification in South Africa. The percent of perinatal deaths due to NTDs declined 66 percent. The number of infant deaths due to NTDs decreased 39 percent.
The study began in 2002 and was conducted in 12 public hospitals in four provinces in South Africa.
Preventive medicine cannot not only save lives but also saves money. For most chronic disorders and diseases, it is much cheaper for health officials to administer preventive measures than it is to provide lifelong health care to the affected individuals.
Many African countries are realizing how crucial preventive medicine is to sustaining their populations and their economies.
Photo Credit: AFP News Agency, crawfurd.dk