WHA75 Side-event “ Folic Acid Fortification to Prevent Spina Bifida”

25 May 2022

On May 24th 2022, the International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (IF) together with GAPSBiF and G4 Alliance organised the WHA75 side event “Folic Acid Fortification to Prevent Spina Bifida” in Geneva, Switzerland.

World-wide at least 300,000 pregnancies are estimated to be affected with spina bifida and anencephaly annually, and 75% of them result in elective terminations, stillbirths, or under-five deaths. 

Fortification of staple foods with folic acid is a safe, cost-effective and sustainable policy to substantially reduce the prevalence of neural tube defects (NTDs) including Spina Bifida. 

IF together with partners from international organisations, medical and academic institutes are leading a campaign to call for a global action on preventable birth defects.

On the occasion of the Seventy-fifth World Health Assembly (WHA75) in Geneva, Switzerland, IF together with GAPBiF and G4 Alliance organised the WHA75 side event “Folic Acid Fortification to Prevent Spina Bifida.

Dr Gail Rosseau (Clinical Professor, Moderator, GAPSBiF) opened the meeting and welcomed all speakers, delegates and participants.

The first speaker, Dr Nebiyat Tesfaye (SBH Program Coordinator, St. Peter’s Specialized Hospital. Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Ministry of Health) gave an inspiring speech from the perspective of a person with spina bifida.

Thereafter, Dr Rick Boop (Professor, St Jude Children’s Research Hospital) shared updates on treatments, impact and consequences of spina bifida and anencephaly. 

Dr Vijaya Kancherla (Assistant Professor, Emory University Rollins School of Public Health) provided epidemiology of spina bifida and anencephaly. Besides wheat and maize fortification with folic acid, Dr Kancherla highlighted the possible prevention of spina bifida with salt fortification and called for WHA resolution for folic acid fortification. 

Additionally, Dr Helena Pachón (Research Professor, Food Fortification Initiative) shared research results showing that folic acid fortification is the safe and effective action towards spina bifida prevention.

Dr Sylvia Roozen (Secretary General, International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus) highlighted the importance of public-private-civil society partnership for science-based advocacy with the example of Smarter Future, a partnership between flour millers, governments, vitamin and mineral suppliers, international organisations, and academic institutions to make fortification of wheat and maize flour a reality in Africa.

Dr Germán Escobar (Vice-Minister of Health, Republic of Colombia) shared the process and possible challenges of the WHA Resolution. He also showed a strong commitment to take the lead on the campaign for a global action on preventable birth defects with folic acid fortification.

In conclusion, Dr Gail Rosseau concluded that there is a need for a WHA Resolution to fight preventable birth defects globally and sent a gratitude to all the partners for the success of the side event. 

The side event gave insights into how folic acid fortification will bring the world closer to the goal of reducing child mortality and achieving health equity. Most importantly, this side event is the evidence of the strong partnership and contribution of IF, GAPSBiF, G4 Alliance and the support of the Vice-Minister of Health of the Republic of Colombia and all other partners. It is all about international solidarity and what we can do together to fight for the same objectives.