A prenatal and newborn-screening network will be expanded throughout the country to reach the target of serving 30 percent of newborn babies and 15 percent of pregnant women by 2015, according to Department of Population and Family Planning.

The target is established by the national strategic population and reproductive health development plan for the 2015-2020 period approved by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

Dr Do Ngoc Tan, the department’s head, said they hope to have 50 percent of pregnant women screened and 80 percent of newborn babies by 2020.

Tan spoke at a workshop on prenatal and newborn screening held on Dec. 9 in HCM City by Tu Du Obstetrics Hospital and General Office for Population and Family Planning.

“This is a big challenge,” he said, adding that many provinces and cities that are part of the network face a shortage of funds and equipment.

To develop the network throughout the country, Tan said the Government should invest further and improve training of provincial health officials in prenatal and newborn screening.

According to the General Office for Population and Family Planning, an average of one million babies are delivered each year in Vietnam .

Of that number, between 22,000 and 30,000 babies have congenital defects.

If more pre-natal screening occurred, more abnormalities would be diagnosed.

Tan said it is important to expand the network throughout the country from its current number in 51 provinces and cities nationwide. The network began in 2007.

The hospitals that offer training for pre-screening are the National Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Hanoi , Hue Medical University in Thua Thien-Hue province, and Tu Du Obstetrics Hospital in HCM City .

The national network has provided counselling on prenatal and newborn screening to 80 percent of pregnant women in the provinces and cities.

Ninety percent of pregnant women have received screening, and 40 percent of newborn babies have their blood taken for testing.

The Ministry of Health said the network has contributed to reducing the rate of newborn babies with congenital defects.

The number of congenital defects discovered and treated in a timely fashion has also increased.

Reports from the network in 12 northern provinces and cities showed that 55.7 percent of 6,235 prenatal-screened cases had congenital defects during the 2007-2010 period.

Dr Pham Viet Thanh, head of HCM City Department of Health, who is charged with developing the network in southern provinces and cities, said that more than 82,142 newborn babies in 20 southern provinces and cities had been screened since 2007.

Each year, the city’s neigbouring provinces and cities transfers more than 4,000 pregnant women at a high risk of delivering babies with congenital defects to the city’s Tu Du Obstetrics Hospital after screening.

Among them, more than 2,000 are forced to give up their babies.

“If there was no screening, this number of newborn babies would have been a burden on society,” Thanh said.

Tan said he expects the number of congenital defects to rise as more screening increases in the 2015-20 period./.