Serious birth defects can be lethal. For those who survive, these disorders can cause lifelong mental, physical, auditory or visual disability. Data presented in this report show that at least 3.3 million children under five years of age die from birth defects each year and an estimated 3.2 million of those who survive may be disabled for life.
Birth defects are a global problem, but their impact is particularly severe in low- and middle-income countries where more than 94 percent of the births with serious birth defects and 95 percent of the deaths of these children occur.
- This report was the first to provide global estimates of birth prevalence for serious birth defects of genetic or partially genetic origin.
- The accompanying database in Appendix B provides the first systematic, country-by-country summary of annual births of infants with specific serious birth defects of genetic or partially genetic origin.
- According to the data in this report, five common serious birth defects of genetic or partially genetic origin in 2001 were: (1) congenital heart defects (1,040,835 births); (2) neural tube defects (323,904 births); (3) the hemoglobin disorders thalassemia and sickle cell disease (307,897 births); (4) Down syndrome (trisomy 21) (217,293 births); and (5) glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency (177,032 births). Combined, these five conditions account for about 25 percent of all of birth defects of genetic or partially genetic origin.
How to Use
The report includes recommendations that countries can take to prevent birth defects and improve the care of affected children in low- and middle-income countries. These steps can be implemented in two phases, according to the health needs and economic capacities of a given country.