RIYADH, 14 June 2005 — A nationwide program to detect problems in newborns was launched yesterday. Endorsed by the Prince Salman Center for Disability Research (PSCDR), the program is designed to detect disabilities within the first 72 hours of life.
The chairman of the center’s board of trustees, Prince Sultan ibn Salman, said that the program would include all newborns in the Kingdom according to an agreement with the Health Ministry and the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center (KFSHRC).
Prince Salman, governor of Riyadh and founder of PSCDR, formally inaugurated the program Sunday night at a function attended by Minister of Health Dr. Hamad Al-Manei and Minister of Social Affairs Abdul Mohsen Al-Akkas and Prince Sultan ibn Salman.
In his speech, Health Minister Al-Manie said that diseases of both metabolic and genetic origin were the cause of many unnecessary disabilities. “In case of metabolic and genetic diseases in newborns, early treatment can help prevent disability, especially if we take into account that most of the diseases are not apparent in the first days of life and that their symptoms appear later,” he said.
Prince Sultan said the program was a sign of the serious cooperation between the government and the private sectors. “Ninety percent of board members are either bankers or private businessmen. We even have foreign companies such as Exxon Mobil represented on the board; all of them support the PSCDR’s humanitarian efforts.”
The prince said that the aim of the program was to provide a future for Saudi Arabia as free as possible from genetic diseases. Between four and five hundred thousand infants are born in the Kingdom every year and before this program, only 10,000 of them were screened.
The PSCDR and the Ministry of Health plan to implement the program in phases.
In phase one, all new newborns in major government and private hospitals will be screened. In phase two, screening will be expanded to include all the regions in the Kingdom.
In the first year of implementation, screening will include 85,0000 newborns. The PSCDR will cooperate with maternity hospitals in different parts of the Kingdom. In the second year, the number of newborns screened will rise to 160,000 and in the third to 280,000. All newborns in the Kingdom will be screened in the fourth year.
According to the PSCDR, a blood sample taken from the infant’s ankle will be sent to the laboratory in the first 72 hours of life. If a problem is detected, the parents will be notified and the infant immediately given the necessary treatment.
Prince Sultan said that he hoped that special laboratories for this specific purpose would soon be established. When asked about the test results for infants in remote areas, he said, “The results will be sent by express mail to any location in the Kingdom within 48 to 72 hours.”
He went on to point out, “In many developed countries, these tests are compulsory for all citizens. The program is of great importance to our society and our country.”