All it takes are five drops of blood. That’s right, only five. Drawn from a newborn’s heel, those five drops can be lifesavers. Dabbed on preprinted cards, the blood spots are used to test for more than 30 generic, endocrine, and metabolic disorders. Detected early enough, many of those life-threatening conditions are treatable and even curable.1
Sadly, most of the estimated 134 million babies born each year will never be tested. For a variety of reasons – from lack of money or skills to lack of infrastructure or plain ignorance – the vast majority of newborns are never screened. Those who are tested are screened for only a few of disorders. The result is that hundreds of thousands of newborns are annually afflicted by conditions that will either plague them for a lifetime or lead to their early death.
Call To Action
In a recently issued white paper, Prahlad Singh, President of Diagnostics at PerkinElmer, makes a strong appeal for a united effort in closing the global gap in newborn screening. He does so with a compelling plan-of-action for organizations, experts, and local and national governments to work together to finally ensure that every newborn has the same access to testing and life-changing treatments regardless of race, creed, color, or origin. It is, in many respects, a global credo for health on behalf of those not yet able to speak for themselves. In short, Singh is advocating a global call to action that includes:
What Organizations Can Do: By their very nature, public and private organizations around the world are ideally positioned to initiate new screening programs within their own counties, Singh says. Many of them understand and deal with the devastating human consequences of no screening programs. And because of their intimate ties to their own people, culture, and politics, they can become their country’s best advocates for government support.
How Local Government Can Help: History proves that local initiatives often blossom into national programs. Singh says these are the global testing grounds, where programs can learn what works and what does not. Determining best practices and procedures on the local level often provides the road map larger government agencies need to develop nationwide programs.
Role of Central Governments: Singh says that winning national governmental approval around the world is the key to global newborn screening. Yes, it will take time, commitment, and hard data to prove that newborn screening is worth the investment, he says. But it the only way a country can save the lives of its own citizens across a nation, Singh says.
Involvement of Screening Experts: Many experts with on-the-ground experience in creating newborn screening programs are available to assist developing countries in need of help, Singh says. Among these are the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. National Newborn Screening and Genetics Resource Center, the International Society for Neonatal Screening, the March of Dimes, and PerkinElmer. Working together and with the governments in the region, they have helped to create such organizations as the Asia Pacific Newborn Screening Collaborative to expand newborn screening efforts throughout the Asia Pacific Region, where 50% of the world’s newborns call home.2
A Global Partnership
“Only through comprehensive, sustainable screening programs can we protect our newborns,” Singh says. “If each partner works together, we have the ability to improve or save the lives of at least 100 newborns every day—more than one baby every 30 minutes,” he says. “I urge each of us to examine our responsibilities in establishing these crucial newborn screening efforts around the world.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Newborn Screening.
Consolidating newborn screening efforts in the Asia Pacific region, PubMed Central, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institues of Health, Published online Jan 2012.