Reducing birth defects benefits the entire population

Emmanuel Ofo­su Yeboah was born in Ghana with­out the tib­ia in his right leg, leav­ing it deformed and use­less. His father aban­doned him. His moth­er was told to kill him. That is just what it means to be dis­abled in Ghana.

For­tu­nate­ly, his moth­er was strong, and raised Yeboah to have high expec­ta­tions for him­self, even if nobody else did. In 2002, at the age of 25, he rode a donat­ed bicy­cle 360 miles across Ghana – with one leg – and showed his entire coun­try that the dis­abled could be very able indeed. His sto­ry became a movie that con­tin­ues to inspire.

When I heard Emmanuel’s sto­ry, I too was inspired by his incred­i­ble tri­umph. I was enraged by the plight of the dis­abled in Ghana. But even more, I won­dered what caus­es all those dis­abil­i­ties in the first place? Could they be pre­vent­ed, and if so, what effects would that have on Ghana­ian society?

The March of Dimes Glob­al Report on Birth Defects might offer some answers, and will hope­ful­ly spark some pos­i­tive change. Accord­ing to a March of Dimes press release about the report:

“…it is a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that atten­tion to birth defects will draw fund­ing from oth­er pri­or­i­ty pub­lic health efforts — when, in fact, increased efforts to reduce birth defects in chil­dren con­tributes to the health of the entire population.

Expe­ri­ence from high-income coun­tries shows that over­all mor­tal­i­ty and dis­abil­i­ty from birth defects could be reduced by up to 70 per­cent if the rec­om­men­da­tions in this report were broad­ly implemented…

Among the inter­ven­tions that would have imme­di­ate impact are:

  1. folic acid sup­ple­men­ta­tion to pre­vent neur­al tube defects; 
  2. iod­i­na­tion of salt to pre­vent severe con­gen­i­tal hypothy­roidism; and 
  3. rubel­la immu­niza­tion to pre­vent con­gen­i­tal rubel­la syndrome.”

I think it’s a great place to start. If you agree, go to

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