I noticed an interesting article in a recent China Daily about the cause of birth defects in China, which is the first time I’ve seen anything officially reported that admits a strong link between the horrid environmental conditions and birth defects. Compare this with a March 2008 article that correlates the falling rate of premarital checks with and increasing rate of congenital deformities. A September 2007 article blames later age pregnancy and unhealthy lifestyles behind the more than 1 million babies born with a defect every year.
Birth defects constitute a huge health problem in China and this is not news to China. “Measures” and “blueprints” to address birth defects have been reported and implemented in this country, but the rate continues to rise. China reports some statistics, such as every 30 seconds a baby is born with a birth defect and that the rate of defects has risen 40% since 2001. Of the children born with a birth defect, 30-40% do not survive the neonatal period, according to the article. I’m not exactly a big fan of statistics reported by official mouthpieces in China, and even trustworthy statistics can be twisted and turned, but this is really something of concern. I won’t editorialize about the birth/death rate or the death rate among infants with birth defects in China except to say that there are all kinds of ways to get out of a tough situation and even have it reflect positively upon the country.
Although I haven’t seen this reported, my experience tells me that the rate could be higher than reported as children with congenital deformities make up a very large proportion of children in orphanages (up to 90% according to our stats in Henan province). There is no law against aborting babies with birth defects, but popular opinion has weighed in against it at least one case. This article, where a woman documented her decision to abort her 6 month fetus because the child had a cleft lip abortion, reports that “the majority of readers condemned her decision”. Although the numbers of abandoned babies in orphanages is astounding and tragic, it is amazing that so many survive pregnancy and birth at all.
Part of why I’m here is to help treat children with deformities, and that includes the prevention of of birth defects. Environmental toxins are well-known teratogens and exist everywhere here. I’m glad to see that officially China is linking the two. Hopefully this may lead to some public health sleuthing. Preventive health is really in infancy here (no pun intended), but I hope that more and more people catch on and begin to see the value in it.