Newborn screening trend catching up

The number of parents opting for newborn screening in Delhi is steadily increasing, according to health experts here.

Screening newborns, a more popular concept in the West, ensures that children are diagnosed early if they are suffering from any genetic disorder.

“Now, parents are more sensitised on the issue of screening of newborns for different medical conditions,” said Dr Raghuram Mallaiah, director neonatologist, Fortis La Femme Hospital.

“When the procedure started in 2008, around 30 per cent of the parents opted for it. Now it has gone up to 60 per cent. The numbers will, however, differ from one hospital,” Mallaiah said.

Early screening ensures that the condition is detected even before there is any manifestation of it.
The screening process also actively involves the doctors who counsel and convince the would-be parents of the necessity of the process.

Screening kits are also expensive which is one reason why people often opt out of it.
The most common screening that a newborn should ideally undergo is a test for hypothyroidism.

“The metabolic screening test covers as many as 100 diseases,” said Dr Saroja Balan, senior consultant, neonatology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital.

 “But the most important as far as the Indian population is concerned is the thyroid screening test to detect hypothyroidism,” said Dr Saroja Balan.

If untreated, congenital hypothyroidism can lead to mental retardation. However, it should be detected in the first few weeks of birth.

“Even if it is detected after six months, it is late. While all tests of inborn error metabolism costs Rs 4,500, we give parents the option of only opting for the thyroid test at Rs 400,” said Dr Mallaiah.

Currently, the hospital data shows one in 700 such cases. However, the sample will vary if more number of children are screened.

Besides screening newborns for blood test, services like tests for hearing and congenital heart disease are also picking pace.

“We have started screening newborns for the heart diseases for the past six months. Currently, it is being conducted on a trial basis,” said Dr Mallaiah.

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