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IF Webinar ‘Preventing Birth Defects and Saving Lives: Folic Acid-Preventable Spina Bifida, Anencephaly’

17 January 2023

The key highlight of the World Folic Acid Awareness Week was the global webinar ‚ÄúPreventing Birth Defects and Saving Lives: Folic Acid-Preventable Spina Bifida, Anencephaly‚ÄĚ held on January 6, 2023. The goal of the webinar was to trigger a deeper understanding of mandatory food fortification with folic acid for prevention of birth defects and to mobilise the participants for a call to action on a WHO resolution on food fortification.¬† During the webinar, international panelists who are all strong advocates for food fortification, shared their perspectives for a healthier, stronger, and smarter future for all.

The webinar was divided into two sessions. The first session, titled ‚ÄėFolic Acid- Preventable Spina Bifida, Anencephaly‚Äô explored¬†bolstering the advocacy aspects for food fortification.¬† IF Secretary General, Dr Sylvia Roozen emphasised on the significance of large scale mandatory food fortification for the primary prevention of Neural Tube Defects and the need for public-private-civil partnerships. Dr Sylvia, who also moderated the first session, presented the five panelists, namely Dr Godfrey Oakley (Director, Center for Spina Bifida Prevention and Research, Emory University), Dr Jeffrey Blount (Chair, GABSBi-F), Dr Saskia Osendarp (Director, Micronutrient Forum), Mr Gerry Maguire (CEO, Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Ireland) and,¬†Mrs Victoria Sandoval (Trustee, Asociaci√≥n Guatemalteca de Espina B√≠fida Guatemala).

The panel discussion was introduced by Dr Oakley, who emphasized the significance of scientific evidence supporting and facilitating the advocacy agenda for spina bifida and anencephaly in food fortification. Dr Jeffrey Blount, the next panelist, underlined how neurosurgeons can support advocacy for mandatory fortification and how networks of neurosurgeons and other interested champions are making it work. Following that, Dr Saskia Osendarp added impetus to the role of the Micronutrient Forum in folic acid-preventable Spina Bifida and Anencephaly. Mr Gerry Maguire, with his inspiring talk, shed light on the human rights approach to prevention. The first session concluded with Mrs Victoria Sandoval, who shared her personal experience with folic acid.

With a stellar line-up of expert speakers,¬†the second session titled ‚ÄėImplementation of Mandatory Food Fortification in Practice‚Äô was moderated by Dr Luz De-Regil (Head, Multisectorial action in food systems, World Health Organisation). She introduced the second session panelists namely Mrs Melinda Farris (CEO, International Association of Operating Millers); Dr Santosh Karmarkar (Director, Spina Bifida Foundation India); Mr Scott Montgomery (Director, Food Fortification Initiative); Dr Aziza Elnaeema (Spina Bifida Federal Association of Sudan); Mr Penjani Mkambula (Global Program Lead for Food Fortification at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition). Mrs Melinda Farris began the panel discussion by addressing the role of millers for universal mandatory food fortification with folic acid. Following that Dr Santosh Karamkar elucidated how tea fortification supports the prevention effort for food fortification with folic acid in India. The next panelist, Mr Scott Montgomery illustrated the significance of food fortification and the processes of safety and monitoring with regard to implementation. Thereafter,¬†Dr Aziza Elnaeema shared her experiences from Sudan with regard to the challenges of implementation. Mr Penjani Mkambula, concluded the second session by pointing out the lessons learned from food fortification programmes globally and the key priorities moving forward.

On a whole, both sessions aimed to shed light on the way the world addresses the challenges of malnutrition and the prevention of neural tube defects. The webinar was a success, with over 400 registered participants from all over the world.

Each of the panelists in this webinar shared their distinct perspectives, visions, and goals for the future. Many powerful messages were conveyed for preventing birth defects and saving lives through folic-acid preventable Spina Bifida and Anencephaly (what is needed, for whom, and how, and the need for longtime commitment to make change happen together). The webinar offered insights into the political will that countries can raise as well as how to build networks at every social stratum to spread the message that successful pregnancies begin with a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Thus, the webinar is one such a platform to inspire our audience to reflect and advocate for fortification and also to envisage what we can accomplish together. IF thanks the panelists for their dedication, continuous support and setting a great example for others to follow.

You can watch the full webinar on our YouTube channel here

We are looking forward to your continuous support and active participation!