What are neural tube defects?

Neural tube defects are abnormal formations of the brain and spinal cord which occurs when the baby is being formed during pregnancy. These babies are born with swellings at the back (at any part of the back) or on the face. They are called spinal bifida. The common types of bifida are myelomeningocele, meningocele (both have swellings at the back), encephalocele (swelling can either be on the face or at the back).

How are they formed?

The brain and spinal cord are formed in the 1st 3- 4weeks of pregnancy, so by the 4th week, the brain and spinal cord development is completed. These malformations occur during this period.


If formed, what next?

Babies born with these defects will require surgery to correct the appearance of the child and avoid infections such as meningitis since the brain and spinal cord is open. The surgery done unfortunately does not correct already damaged structures (nerves) but helps prevent further damage. This means that many of these children may have some neurologic deficit e.g weakness of the legs, club foot e.t.c.


How often does it occur (how common is it)?

The exact incidence of spina bifida in our environment is unknown, however, one thing we know for sure is that the incidence is not reducing as it should.


Why is this important?

Most women realize that they are pregnant after they notice that their periods are late, which is at least 1 month, plus a few days or weeks, depending on the amount of time they decide to observe to exclude late periods. By this time, little or nothing can be done to prevent a neural tube defect from occurring.

What can be done to prevent it?

Fortunately, it can be largely prevented by a simple, cheap measure but most women are unaware. It has been shown that daily intake of folic acid before pregnancy and during pregnancy can greatly reduce the chances of the baby having these defects. Folic acid also helps to prevent anaemia (i.e low blood levels).

Folic acid is also known as vitamin B9. Daily intake of 400 micrograms of folic acid is recommended for all women of child bearing age (between the ages 9- 45/50) especially those who are sexually active.


Where it can be purchased?

Folic acid can be bought from any pharmacy around you. It cost about 100 naira for 100 tablets.

Information is key. Tell every woman around you (mother, sister, cousins, other relations, friends, neighbours, etc.) and together, we can prevent our children from these defects.