Featured State Surveillance Program:

South Carolina Birth Defects Prevention Program

Birth defects are the leading cause of infant death in South Carolina. One of every 40 babies born in South Carolina will have a major birth defect. The South Carolina Birth Defects Prevention Program, based at the Greenwood Genetic Center, works to reduce and eventually prevent those defects from occurring.

A prime success story for the program is in the prevention of neural tube defects.
What are neural tube defects?
Neural tube defects, also called NTDs, are abnormalities of the developing brain and spine. These defects occur very early in pregnancy, often before the mother realizes that she is pregnant.

How can I prevent NTDs?
Research has shown that if a woman takes folic acid before and during pregnancy, she can dramatically lower the chances that her baby will be born with a neural tube defect.

What is folic acid?
Folic acid is a B vitamin involved in cell growth and repair.
Who should take folic acid?
All women who are of childbearing age should take 0.4 mg of folic acid daily. Because many pregnancies are unplanned and NTDs happen before a woman knows she is pregnant, waiting could be too late. Any woman who is able to become pregnant should take folic acid.

Women who have had a previous pregnancy in which the baby had an NTD should talk with their doctor about increasing their folic acid intake even more before becoming pregnant.

How can I get folic acid?
The easiest way to get folic acid is through a daily multivitamin. Most over the counter multivitamins contain the recommended dosage for all women of childbearing age (0.4 mg). Folic acid can also be found in prenatal vitamins and in many types of foods such as green leafy vegetables, cereals, pasta, bread, beans and orange juice.

The South Carolina Birth Defects Prevention Program began in 1992 in response to the discovery of the importance of folic acid in neural tube defect (NTD) prevention, in a state with highest incidence of NTDs in the country.

In the years since the program’s inception, the rate of NTDs has decreased by more than 60% in South Carolina because of the increased use of folic acid by women of childbearing age. That accounts for approximately 70 healthy babies per year in South Carolina, babies who, 25 years ago, would have been born with an NTD. The Program also led the efforts for folate fortification in the food supply.

The Greenwood Genetic Center, through collaborations with the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, provides a public awareness campaign that includes billboards, presentations, printed materials, physician office visits, and attendance at health and bridal fairs, to educate health care providers and the general population, especially women of childbearing age, about the importance of taking folic acid before and during pregnancy.

These efforts have not only had a tremendous human impact, but have been estimated to save the state of South Carolina over $20 million per year in prevented health care costs. An amazing return on their investment of less than $300,000 annually.

The SC Birth Defects Program has been recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the NBDPN as a model program and was called the ‘Success Story of the Decade’.

For more information about this program contact Jane Dean, RN, Program Coordinator at 1-800-939-1920 or jane@ggc.org