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OHIO Group: Birth-defect tracking is needed



Published: Sat, February 23, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The March of Dimes wants a monitoring system to track birth defects until the child is five years old.

By WILLIAM K. ALCORN

VINDICATOR HEALTH WRITER

CLEVELAND -- Ohio has received an "F" for failing to establish a birth defects monitoring system, which the March of Dimes says would reduce birth defects -- the top cause of infant mortality in the United States.

Ohio was among a number of states that received a failing grade in a new report issued by Trust for America's Health, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. In its report, "Birth Defects Tracking and Prevention: Too Many States Are Not Making the Grade," TFAH gave grades to each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The Ohio March of Dimes used the report to renew its call for a state birth defects monitoring program.

Statistics: According to the MOD, among the 150,000 babies born each year in Ohio, the sixth most of any state in the nation, an estimated 6,112 are born with birth defects.

An exact number isn't available, said Courtney L. Clarke, state director of communications and marketing for MOD, because Ohio has no birth defects surveillance program.

Charlotte Stahl, Youngstown City Health Department administrator, said some information on birth defects is on birth certificates.

But, she said, the information is not in a system by itself, which would make it easier to access. Also, defects that develop after birth are not tracked.

MOD, a national voluntary health organization whose mission is to prevent birth defects and infant mortality, advocates a monitoring system that tracks birth defects up through age five, Clarke said.

Nationally, the MOD's advocacy resulted in the Birth Defects Prevention Act of 1998, which authorized a nationwide network to monitor birth defects. It also resulted in the Children's Health Act of 2000, which helped develop a federal support structure for states' birth defects surveillance through which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can give states financial help to establish or expand surveillance systems.

The MOD effort in Ohio helped create a birth defects information system, which was signed into law in July 2000 by Gov. Bob Taft. However, in 2001 Taft vetoed the budget line item that would have provided $100,000 in start-up funds for the system, Clarke said.

The MOD has always advocated combining multiple funding sources for a birth defects information system. "Ideally, this would be a mix of federal and state funds," she said.

"We were very concerned to learn that the CDC has denied the Ohio Department of Health's application for start-up funding for the third time. The MOD is very disappointed that ODH has not made any serious progress toward the implementation of a system that is so essential to improving the health of babies," Clarke said.

Benefits: She said some of the potential benefits of a monitoring system is that it would help pinpoint clusters of birth defects, which might indicate something harmful in the environment; and it could reveal trends in birth defects, which would help researchers decide what to focus on.

A monitoring system would let health organizations direct research, treatment and awareness programs to where the problem of birth defects is most severe, Clarke said.

alcorn@vindy.com




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