4,300 Australians born with defects each year

Approximately 4,300 (1.6%) Australians are born each year with significant birth defects diagnosed at birth or soon afterwards, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

These defects accounted for 1 in 5 perinatal deaths and 1 in 3 infant deaths in Australia in 1994 (perinatal = stillbirths and deaths in the first four weeks after birth).

Congenital Malformations Australia 1993 and 1994, from the Institute's National Perinatal Statistics Unit, provides national data on trends in incidence and deaths due to malformations, and on terminations of pregnancy for malformations.

The report also presents malformation trends by maternal age and country of birth, State or Territory of the infant's birth, and for single and multiple births.

Dr Paul Lancaster, AIHW National Perinatal Statistics Unit director, said that 718 pregnancies were terminated because of fetal defects in Australia in 1994, an increase from 421 in 1991.

Dr Lancaster said that the data available, although incomplete, showed a declining trend in neural tube defects (spina bifida and anencephalus).

'We need better data to interpret this trend, and to establish whether policies aimed at preventing spina bifida and anencephalus have been effective.'

Other findings of the report include:

  • Isolated and multiple malformations were more common in twins and other multiple births than in single births.
  • Mothers aged 40 years and over had a malformation rate twice that of mothers aged 20ȍ24 years. Older mothers were 12 times more likely to give birth to an infant with a chromosomal abnormality, and 60 times more likely to have a termination for this reason before 20 weeks' gestation, than the younger mothers.

7 March 1997


Further information: Dr Paul Lancaster, NPSU, ph. 02 9351 4379 or 02 9351 5204 (fax).
General media liaison: Lyn Elliott, AIHW, ph. 02 6244 1034.
For media copies of the report (74 pp): Chris Finnegan, AIHW, ph. 02 6244 1032.
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