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March 20, 2013

Newborn Screening Should be Mandatory

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The importance of neonatal (newborn) screening and how it can help prevent the development of diseases, were discussed by leading local and international experts at the second Sidra Symposia Series in Doha in November 2012. Hosted by the Sidra Medical and Research Center, the event highlighted the benefits of newborn screening to diagnose and prevent genetic metabolic diseases, leading to calls for a national program to screen every child in Qatar.

According to the latest studies and international best practices, screening of newborn babies for metabolic diseases, which is performed through a simple blood test, should be done within the first 24-72 hours after birth. There is a growing need for screening facilities in doctors’ offices and clinics, as well as in hospitals to ensure such tests could be performed regularly.

The Sidra Symposium titled, ‘Neonatal Screening of Genetic Diseases and Child Development’ included a panel discussion comprised of Dr Mohamed Al-Thani, Director of the Public Health Department at the Supreme Council of Health; Dr Tawfeg Ben-Omran, Head of Qatar Medical Genetics Center at Hamad Medical Corporation and Professor at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q); Professor Gunther Wess, CEO and Scientific Director of Helmhotz Zentrum Munchen; Professor Walter Rosenthal, Director of the Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch; and Professor Annette Grueters, Molecular Endocrinologist and Dean of the University Faculty Charite Berlin.

The session was attended by more than 40 of the top medical experts from the Supreme Council of Health (SCH), Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), WCMC-Q and Qatar Foundation (QF) at the Four Seasons hotel in Doha. Specialists and consultants received two continuing medical education (CME) credits.

The event was led and moderated by Dr Joachim Dudenhausen, Medical Advisor and Head of Medical Staff Services at Sidra Medical and Research Center, and a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at WCMC-Q. During the panel, Dr Dudenhausen stressed the importance of screening newborns for genetic diseases.

“Early diagnosis of inborn errors, such as diabetes, can mean that these genetic abnormalities can then be prevented from manifesting and developing. This can be done through increased awareness of lifestyle choices and the ways in which these can be applied from a young age in order to prevent the development of metabolic related diseases in the future,” he said.

Commenting on the prominence of this topic in the medical community, and the importance of raising awareness, Dr Mohamed Al-Thani added, “Neonatal screening should be mandated for all newborns in every hospital and relevant medical facility in Qatar. This screening process can help to combat and prevent illnesses that are prevalent in our country, such as diabetes, metabolic disorders, hypothyroidism, and jaundice. This simple procedure can create a healthier society, helping parents and families to understand and implement straight forward lifestyle choices that can prevent the child from developing these diseases later in life.

“I would very much like to see a national program from the Supreme Council of Health to ensure that all newborns are given the best start possible in life. Neonatal screening would be acceptable for newborns if supported by evidence to substantiate its validity in Qatar. This screening process can help to combat and prevent illnesses that are prevalent in our country, such as diabetes, metabolic disorders, hypothyroidism, and jaundice.

“This simple procedure, if proven effective, can create a healthier society, helping parents and families to understand and implement straight forward lifestyle choices that can prevent the child from developing these diseases later in life. Once we have proven that this procedure has a positive impact on health, I would very much like to see a national program from the Supreme Council of Health to ensure that all newborns are given the best start possible in life.”

Dr Tawfeg Ben-Omran provided an overview of HMC’s successful expanded neonatal screening program that has been in place for nine years, concluding that increased awareness through family education, newborn screening, family screening, initiation of effective premarital and preconception counselling and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis are imperative in early detection and treatment of inborn errors of metabolism.

“HMC’s newborn screening program is committed to ensuring that every newborn in Qatar receives high quality and timely screenings and treatments for serious diseases. It has had great impact on preventing the disabling sequelae of many treatable conditions. I would support using our program as a template for developing a national neonatal screening programs in the region,” said Dr Ben-Omran.