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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Emory: Researchers Recommend Enriching Iodized Salt with Folic Acid in Ethiopia to Fight Spina Bifida and Anencephaly Epidemic

A recent study conducted by researchers at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and published in Birth Defects Research provided recommendations for preventing folic acid-preventable spina bifida and anencephaly cases and related mortality in Ethiopia. Dr. Vijaya Kancherla, research assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology, was corresponding author of the article, with Ms. Meredith Dixon, MPH candidate, and Dr. Godfrey P. Oakley, research professor and director for the Center for Spina Bifida Prevention at Emory, contributing.

Ethiopia has recently witnessed epidemic levels of spina bifida and anencephaly, both of which lead to high levels of stillbirths and deaths in children under the age of 5. While the global average of these birth defects is 1.9 per 1,000 live births, Ethiopia’s rates, according to a recent hospital-based surveillance study, were 13 per 1,000, which is one of the highest levels recorded. Though it has been scientifically proven that folic acid can prevent both birth defects, the epidemic remains high, particularly in countries without effective interventions like mandatory fortification of staple foods with folic acid.

Using estimates on the prevalence of spina bifida and anencephaly in both live and stillbirths from a recent surveillance study in Ethiopia, the researchers found that folic acid interventions could have prevented about 41,610 cases of folic acid-preventable spina bifida and anencephaly affected pregnancies in 2016. Drs. Tony Magana and Afeworki Mulugeta, who were authors on the surveillance study from Ethiopia, collaborated with Emory researchers on the current study.

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