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Congenital Zika Syndrome Added to the Americas Watch List

May 14, 2021 • 10:36 am CDT
(Zika News)

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) urges early detection of congenital disabilities and continuous support and care to newborns and their families. In Latin America and the Caribbean, approximately 1 in 5 deaths during the first 28 days of life are due to congenital disabilities.

The anomalies, which can be structural or functional, occur during gestation. The most common and serious are congenital heart defects, neural tube defects, and chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome. 

In 2016, Congenital Zika Syndrome was added to the list of congenital defects.

Zika can cause microcephaly, a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected compared to babies of the same sex and age. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that might not have developed properly, says the U.S. CDC.

"Congenital defects are today one of the main causes of death of newborns in the region. However, they are mostly preventable," said Dr. Pablo Duran, regional advisor for PAHO's Latin American Center for Perinatology/Women’s Health and Reproductive Health (CLAP).

"In order not to leave any child behind, it is essential to have timely and quality information on these anomalies in all countries," he said in a press statement.

The recent publication, “Present and Future of Birth Defects Surveillance in the Americas,” produced by PAHO and the World Bank with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), indicates that it is fundamental for countries to have a birth defects surveillance system.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela have a birth defects surveillance system. 

PAHO has been working for years to raise awareness of the problem and implement surveillance actions in the health and government sectors. However, there is still a long way to go. 

PAHO's CLAP is collaborating with creating a regional registry of congenital defects using reports from the countries' surveillance systems.

"Preventing children from dying and ensuring that they thrive is our priority,” said Dr. Duran. “Birth defects account for a significant proportion of neonatal deaths in the region, and we must do more to prevent them." 

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