Future Directions of the National Newborn Screening Program

In 2008, approximately 357,000 or 21% of 1.7 million newborns were screened in the Philippines. This is far below the 30% Department of Health (DOH) target for 2008. If all babies were screened, approximately 33,000 babies could be saved annually from adverse consequences of mental retardation and death. The panel for newborn bloodspot screening includes congenital hypothyroidism, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, phenylketonuria, galactosemia and glucose 6 phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency. Republic Act 9288 or the Newborn Screening Act of 2004 provides for the institutional integration of newborn screening in the health delivery system. Every newborn must be offered newborn screening testing.

DOH, the lead agency for implementing newborn screening (NBS), together with its partners, and other program stakeholders, remain aggressive in their efforts to increase the coverage of screened babies across the nation.

Dr Yolanda Oliveros, Director of Non Communicable Diseases, DOH, said that the program’s strategic direction is geared towards promoting awareness on NBS and increasing the number of newborns screened in the community by identifying and selecting additional key players that have powerful influence at the grassroots’ level such as the midwives, women’s organizations, and other interest groups in the informal sector. Exploring the possibility of establishing partnerships with these organizations in advocating for NBS and ensuring effective implementation of the NBS program at the community level will bring valuable contributions towards achieving our goal of saving more Filipino newborns.

One of the major efforts of DOH to encourage good performance on health delivery services and increase NBS coverage and in Local Government Units (LGUs) is to provide performance-based grants. This grant is assessed against a set of priority indicators for public health. The inclusion of NBS in the assessment criteria will serve as leverage for the LGUs to make sure all their Maternity Care Package (MCP) accredited facilities are performing NBS package.

A Newborn Screening Center in Mindanao will soon be opened at the Davao Medical Center on June 2010. DOH has already opened applications for another Newborn Screening Center to service Northern Luzon. Interested parties can check the DOH website for details. At least 10 G6PD confirmatory centers throughout the country will be opened by May 2010.

While financing remains a challenge, the DOH and PHILHEALTH will need to work closely to improve coverage of enrolment in the national health insurance system especially among the indigents and include NBS service in the Provincial/Municipal Investment Plan for Health.