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Iraq congenital birth defect survey to begin in April

The World Health Organisation and the Iraqi Ministry of Health are set to begin work on a pilot assessment of congenital birth defects in six Iraqi governorates.
29 March 2012 - ICBUW

A project to examine the rates of congenital birth defects such as heart and neurological problems is due to start next month, following a series of planning meetings held during 2011. The survey will cover six of Iraq’s governorates including Baghdad, Anbar, Basrah, Thi Qar, Sulaymaniyah and Dialah.

Significant international concern has been generated over reports from medical staff in cities such as Fallujah and Baghdad of spiralling rates of congenital birth defects. Fallujah, which lies in Anbar province, has become particularly notorious and medical staff and civil society organisations have argued that the increases are linked to environmental contamination from the US led attacks on the city in 2004.

During a workshop on the project in February,  Dr Hawrami Minister of Health of the Kurdistan Regional Government said: “There is a need for a comprehensive programme to learn more about birth defects in Iraq that could shed light on the incidence of various conditions, such as congenital heart defects and neurological defects, in different geographic areas over time in Iraq.”  

The WHO in Iraq has reported that priority will be given in the survey to measuring the magnitude and trend of congenital birth defects at selected district level, identifying possible risk factors of congenital birth defects and assessing the burden of these conditions and impact on the health status of care providers.

ICBUW welcomes this long overdue attention on these disturbing problems but emphasised that the process must be as transparent and wide ranging as possible to ensure that all environmental risk factors, including contamination from depleted uranium munitions and other toxic remnants of war are taken into account. Plans to analyse the health and social burden of these problems on communities are also welcome.  

The project Pilot Assessment of Congenital Birth Defects (CBD) in Iraq has been split into two component parts, the first of which has been funded by the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) Iraq Trust Fund, which is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on behalf of itself and other United Nations Organisations. The first part of the project is expected to cost US$336,350 and will focus on:

Drawing initial baseline data from selected districts in 6 governorates and understanding the trends of birth defects in the selected  governorates in Iraq;

Analyzing spatial and temporal trends and detect changes in the incidence of birth defects in Iraq

Capacity building of Ministry of Health national public health TORCH (Toxoplasmosis, Rubella, Cytomegalo and Herpes virus) laboratory  and technicians

The second phase will aim at:

conducting observational and analytical epidemiological and laboratory investigations to understand underlying risk factors; strengthening the disease registry/surveillance for birth defects in Iraq and finally the proposed study will assist in assessing the burden of the problem on Iraqi health system, medical services and communities and  formulating evidence-based recommendations to address the problem.

The initial research part of the project is expected to be complete by late summer but it is unclear when the first results will be made public.

Notes:

Training workshop for central and local supervisors on congenital birth defects survey, Iraq: http://www.emro.who.int/iraq-press-releases/2012/training-workshop-for-central-and-local-supervisors-on-congenital-birth-defects-survey-iraq.html

Pilot Assessment of Congenital Birth Defects in Iraq in Six Governorates, project description (UNDP): http://mdtf.undp.org/document/download/6499

Huge rise in birth defects in Falluja: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/13/falluja-cancer-children-birth-defects?intcmp=239