MEDIA RELEASE // Brussels, 9 January 2017
This week (9th – 15th January 2017) sees the launch of the first World Folic Acid Awareness Week. The event has been initiated by the International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (IF), the organisation behind the successful launch last year of the pioneering Global Prevention Initiative (GPI). The event is another positive step towards IF’s ambitious goal of reducing the global incidence of preventable Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) and Hydrocephalus.
In 1991, a large scale, multi-centre study by the Medical Research Council proved that supplementation with folic acid (vitamin B9) could significantly reduce the risk of Neural Tube Birth Defects (NTDs), providing the vitamin was taken at the correct time and dose. Despite this knowledge, these serious birth defects are still estimated to affect 500,000 pregnancies globally each year. The most severe form, Anencephaly, is incompatible with life, and the most common, Spina Bifida, is the most complex birth defect compatible with life. Yet, in many cases, these conditions are potentially easily preventable.
Martine Austin, Programme Manager Global Prevention for IF said, ‘The on-going, high incidence of NTDs worldwide presents us with a significant global public health issue. Whilst folic acid won’t prevent all NTDs, it is the single most important factor to reducing the global risk of NTDs. We’ve had this knowledge for over 25 years, yet we’re still nowhere near maximising the potential for prevention.’
NTDs occur during the first 28 days of pregnancy, before many women are even aware that they are pregnant. In order for folic acid to be effective in reducing the risk of NTD, folate levels need to be raised before conception. It’s this vital timing element (as well as a general lack of awareness, and lack of access to supplements) that is one of the greatest barriers to NTD prevention.
‘Still far too many women remain unaware of the importance of folic acid, or aren’t educated about it at the right time i.e. BEFORE pregnancy. This puts thousands of pregnancies at unnecessary risk, which is simply not acceptable! As a united global community we hope to communicate this important message more powerfully, to affect change and protect many more vulnerable pregnancies around the world.’
Fortification with folic acid has had a considerable impact on the worldwide incidence of NTDs. Since the decision to fortify in the US, over 80 countries now have a mandate to fortify staple foods (such as bread, flour, rice, corn masa) with folic acid. In the US alone, it is estimated that fortification has resulted in 1,300 fewer babies each year being born with an NTD.
World Folic Acid Awareness Week (WFAAW) aims to draw attention to the vital role of folic acid in reducing the widespread global incidence of Neural Tube Defects, and calls upon all Governments and health services to adopt education strategies aimed at reaching all women of childbearing age with this important information, and to make the commitment to fortify staple foods with folic acid.
Supporting the GPI and keeping up with latest global developments is FREE. Sign up here today and be part of the change: https://goo.gl/na2eS0
For further information about folic acid and the GPI visit https://www.ifglobal.org/en/what-we-do/global-prevention or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information about folic acid fortification visit http://ffinetwork.org/
WFAAW is supported by Vitabiotics Pregnacare, the principal partner of the Global Prevention Initiative.
Martine Austin, GPI Programme Manager | email@example.com
Ewa Kampelmann, IF Communications Coordinator | firstname.lastname@example.org
About IF // The International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus was founded by people with spina bifida and hydrocephalus (SBH) and their families in 1979. Over the years, it has grown from a voluntary association into a professional disabled people’s organisation (DPO) with global coverage, democratic structure and transparent and accountable processes. IF’s fast-growing membership now includes 56 member organisations in Africa, Australia, the Americas, Asia and Europe. Membership of IF is open to all nationally registered organisations that share IF’s vision and mission and actively involve people with SBH in their work.