Professor and Head of Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Development at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, Dr Elizabeth Ross (left) with other experts at a session during the international conference on Spina bifida in Doha yesterday. Salim Matramkot
DOHA: A special clinic at the Hamad General Hospital (HGH), for children with Spina bifida, permanently disabling birth defect, has seen over 100 patients within two and half years and the disease could be prevented by folic acid, suggests experts.
Spina bifida literally means “split spine.” Spina bifida happens when a baby is in the womb and the spinal column does not close all of the way.
Around six to eight patients below 14 years are seen per clinic which is held weekly and 37 percent of them are Qatari children.
However, a national study is likely to start on the prevalence of Spina bifida, as accurate data about prevalence of the illness in the country is lacking.
“We do not have accurate data about the incidence and prevalence of the diseases, but in our clinic in the last two and half years we have seen 102 cases,” said Dr Haitham El Bashir, senior consultant, paediatric rehabilitation, Qatar National Spina Bifida Clinic at the Hamad Medical Corporation said yesterday.
He shared the information on sidelines of an International Conference on Spina Bifida: Genetic Environmental causes prevention and treatment held at the Four Seasons Hotel, Doha.
The suggestion to conduct the study has been proposed during the conference hosted by Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q), in association with Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) and Sidra Medical and Research Center
The exact cause of this birth defect is not known. Experts think that genes and the environment are part of the cause. Children with severe symptoms are sometimes born with fluid build-up on the brain.
They may also have this problem after birth. It can cause seizures, intellectual disability, or sight problems. Some children also develop a curve in the spine, such as scoliosis.
“The best prevention is a simple vitamin – folic acid, that has been shown in clinical studies to reduce the risk of Spina Bifida, that has been widely implemented across the world and even in Qatar and its very powerful but not perfect,” said Dr Elizabeth Ross, head of the laboratory of neurogenetics and development at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and organiser of the conference.
“In some studies folic acid has been able to reduce the occurrence of Spina bifida as much as by 70 percent and that still leaves about 30 percent that has no prevention. Much of the research that is going on is to find alternative ways that may do a better job for some families and to understand what all are the risk factors are for the defects,” she added.
“This will not be an accurate figure and may be not all children come to our clinic; there are some children who have not been referred to the clinic. And there are some cases which came initially and we did not diagnose. So we are really very much interested in doing a national study to get accurate data on the incidence and prevalence of Spina bifida in Qatar.”
WCMC-Q Dean Dr Javaid Sheikh, faculty from WCMC-Q, HMC and Sidra who are all leading geneticists, practitioners in neurology, maternal foetal medicine and nephrology were also in attendance and delivered presentations about the Spina bifida during the conference.
The conference shares latest information on the genetic and environmental factors contributing to the development of neural tube defects. It also provided a forum for overview and discussion of neural tube defects encountered in Qatar and the MENA region. In addition, an evening public forum provided an opportunity for the Doha non-medical community, especially parents of children with Spina bifida to hear about the latest research into prevention and treatment for the disease.