PhilHealth may fund newborn screening

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Malaya News, Tuesday October 4, 2005.

The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), is considering the coverage of screening for poor newborn babies in the country, according to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III as the country marked yesterday the opening of the week-long observance of National Newborn Screening Week. 

With an a big portion of the annual newborn babies coming from destitute families, Duque said that coverage of this service would help in covering expenses among the needy families.
Newborn screening is a blood sample testing of babies, within 72 hours after birth, to detect inborn disorders of metabolism — congenital hypothyroidism (CH), congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), galactosemia (GAL), phenylketonuria (PUK), and glucose-6-phosphate-dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency. About 33,000 of the two million babies born in the country annually are affected by life-threatening congenital metabolic disorders, according to data in the health department.

Former Health Secretary and National Health Institute Executive Director Jaime Galvez-Tan estimated that about 600,000 or 30 percent of the two million infants born every year come from poor families. "Given the huge revenue of the Philhealth, it would just be a small amount for them," Tan said.

Dr. Eden D. Latoza of the pediatrics department of the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center said that since 1996, newborn screening coverage for newborn infants has increased to three percent of the total infants born, from three percent, with notable increase in coverage of infants in 2004 due to the passage of a law for the compulsory screening of newborn babies.

A study of newborn screening in the country since 1996 showed that G6PD is the most common deficiency among children, with 402,848 turning positive in the test. CH has 163, CAH — 80 PKU — 5, and GAL 5.

Congenital hypothyroidism is the situation where there are either low levels of thyroid hormones or reasons why the thyroid hormones are not able to carry out their functions.

CAH is a genetic defect of the adrenal glands. A person with CAH will not be able to produce several vital hormones known as corticosteriods. The defect involves a lack of an enzyme needed by the adrenal gland to make the major steroid hormones of the adrenal cortex: cortisol and aldosterone.

Galactosemia is a hereditary disease that is caused by the lack of a liver enzyme required to digest galactose. Galactose is a breakdown product of lactose, which is most commonly found in milk products. Since galactose cannot be broken down, it builds up in the cells and becomes toxic. The body then produces abnormal chemicals, which causes the symptoms seen in infants with untreated galactosemia.

Phenylketonuria (PKU) is an inherited error of metabolism caused by a deficiency in the enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase. Loss of this enzyme results in mental retardation, organ damage, unusual posture and can, in cases of maternal PKU, severely compromise pregnancy.

G-6-PD deficiency is a hereditary, sex-linked enzyme defect that results in the breakdown of red blood cells when the person is exposed to the stress of infection or certain drugs.

Children who are found positive after the test are given a lifetime treatment to prevent the child’s further deterioration through lifetime medical intervention. — Ruelle Albert D. Castro