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All newborns in Flanders to be screened for cystic fibrosis
Newborn babies in Flanders will be screened for cystic fibrosis from the beginning of next year, health minister Jo Vandeurzen has announced. The aim is to pick up cases of this hereditary condition before babies reach two months of age. The earlier treatment begins, the better the prognosis.
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease that affects the lungs and digestion. Treatment options are improving all the time, so that people with the condition live longer and have a better quality of life. There is still no cure, however, and the average life expectancy is only around 38 years.
Doctors usually spot cystic fibrosis in the first year of life, but early screening means that action can be taken before symptoms appear. This can slow progression of the disease, help the baby’s lungs and digestive system develop normally and reduce the severity of treatment required in the first years of the child’s life. Life expectancy is also likely to improve.
The test will be carried out on blood samples taken under an existing population screening programme, so there will be no additional distress for the babies. The samples are taken from the back of the baby’s hand three or four days after birth, with 11 congenital disorders being tested.
Participation in this screening programme is optional, but – thanks to the efforts of midwives and maternity centres – more than 99% of babies are tested. Even so, a publicity campaign about the cystic fibrosis tests will run in January to let people know about the development.
Meanwhile, changes have been introduced to bring the screening programme into line with the General Data Protection Regulation. Parents will now give their consent for the test verbally, after being informed about how the data collected will be used. If they refuse, they must provide confirmation in writing.
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