Dubai Health Authority’s Latifa Women and Children Hospital announced the implementation of a new folic acid consumption guideline for all married women of childbearing age to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects (NTDs), which are birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.
Implementing the guideline will reaffirm DHA’s existing efforts in ensuring adequate prescription of folic acid for women of childbearing age. The guideline will also complement the authority’s campaigns to spread awareness of the importance of folic acid consumption.
As part of the new guideline, DHA doctors will prescribe 400mcg (0.4mg) of folic acid to all married women of childbearing age.
Folic acid tablets should be taken before and during pregnancy to lower the risk of NTDs.
Latifa Hospital has a well-equipped centre to conduct foetal surgery for mothers whose children have been diagnosed with spina bifida.
As more than half of pregnancies are unplanned and because these birth defects occur very early in pregnancy, the new guideline recommends that new mothers should continue to take folic acid after delivery in case they have an additional unplanned pregnancy.
NTDs happen in the first month of pregnancy. The two most common NTDs are spina bifida and anencephaly. Spina bifida can occur anywhere along the spine if the neural tube doesn’t close properly. Where the neural tube doesn’t close correctly, the backbone that protect the spinal cord doesn’t form and close as it should. This often results in damage to the spinal cord and nerves.
Babies with anencephaly are usually either stillborn or die shortly after birth.
Dr Muna Tahlak, CEO of Latifa Hospital, said that the guideline was introduced to reduce the incidence of NTDs, which has become a major problem that affects both patients and parents physically, psychologically and financially .
Dr Tahlak said that the Paediatric Surgery Department at Latifa Hospital has launched an ongoing folic acid awareness programme to shed light on its pivotal role in reducing NTDs not only among women of childbearing age but also among health professionals.
A higher dose of folic acid supplementation is needed for high-risk women such as women with history of NTD or who previously had a NTD-affected pregnancy.
Dr Tahlak explained that DHA doctors have already been prescribing folic acid to women of childbearing age. Launching awareness campaigns on the issue, she stressed that introducing the guideline will further help ensure that all women of childbearing age are being prescribed the medication.
Dr Tahlak also revealed that Latifa Hospital has a well-equipped centre to conduct foetal surgery for mothers whose foetus has been diagnosed with spina bifida. Foetal surgery is a delicate surgical procedure where foetal surgeons open the uterus and close the opening in the baby’s back while they are still in the womb.
She added that mothers whose babies have been diagnosed with spina bifida can contact the hospital to schedule a consultation.
Dr Ghadir Jaber — Consultant Paediatric Surgeon at Latifa Women and Children Hospital, said that the awareness programmes were launched to ensure that all health professionals abide by the guideline and recommend adequate consumption of folic acid as well as provide consistent information to all the married women of childbearing age in order to reinforce folic acid awareness among the Dubai community.
“Taking folic acid before pregnancy is vital,” says Dr Jaber. “This allows it to build up in your body to a level that gives the most protection to your future baby against NTDs. According to international statistics, up to 70 per cent of NTDs can be prevented by consumption of folic acid prior to conception. Hence all married women of childbearing age should consume 400mcg of folic acid daily. A higher dose of supplementation is needed for high-risk women such as women with history of NTDs or who previously had a NTD-affected pregnancy.”
Dr Jaber said that DHA regularly conducts educational sessions for high school and university students to raise folic acid awareness among the Dubai Community because many women are still unaware of the importance of folic acid, putting thousands of pregnancies at risk.
She advises all married women of childbearing age to take folic acid daily and eat folate-rich foods such as dark green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, dried legumes, chickpeas and lentils. “Make it a daily habit; it’s never too early,” she says.