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Archive for Sunday, September 17, 2000

States urged to take baby steps

March of Dimes pushes for more testing of newborns

September 17, 2000

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— States could drastically reduce the rate of metabolic and genetic disorders by screening all newborns, the president of the March of Dimes says, but only a handful of states require all necessary tests.

"I think this is going to rise up the health priority agenda," Jennifer Howse said Friday. "We're looking at a lifetime of rehabilitation if these conditions are not detected."

Howse was in Kansas City for the annual March of Dimes Volunteer Leadership Conference. Her remarks came as the organization launched its five-year campaign to increase awareness of newborn testing and lobby states to require that infants be tested for more conditions.

More than 800 volunteers and staff from across the country are attending the conference of the March of Dimes, whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality.

The March of Dimes says eight screening tests should be performed on every newborn. They include tests for such well-known conditions as sickle cell anemia and for rare diseases like homocystinuria, a disorder affecting brain development.

All eight conditions can be treated.

Only three states, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, require that every infant get all eight tests. Kansas and Missouri require four of them.

The March of Dimes will begin pushing for action on infant testing state by state, Howse said.

Individual screening tests cost about $8 to $10, but the prices charged vary from state to state, she said.

Howse said the March of Dimes planned a cost-benefits analysis comparing the expense of screenings with money that screenings save on medical care.

However, the organization's position is that every newborn should receive tests for every disease, however rare, if the early discovery of that disease can make a difference in the child's health.

"When newborn screening tests for all treatable conditions are universally available and the quality of tests is assured, it may well turn out this effort will be economically beneficial to health insurers," Howse said. "Nevertheless, the March of Dimes believes the primary consideration should always be the health of babies."

The March of Dimes will add tests for additional disorders to its list as the tests are perfected and doctors develop effective treatments, Howse said.

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