4,500 born with defects each year

Approximately 4,500 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 (AIHW). This figure corresponds to 1.7% of all births in Australia.

These defects accounted for almost 1 in 5 perinatal deaths and 1 in 4 infant deaths in Australia in 1996 (perinatal deaths = stillbirths and deaths in the first four weeks after birth).

Congenital Malformations Australia 1995 and 1996, from the Institute's National Perinatal Statistics Unit at the University of New South Wales, provides national data on trends in incidence and deaths due to birth defects, and on terminations of pregnancy for malformations.

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

AIHW National Perinatal Statistics Unit Director Dr Paul Lancaster said that the reported number of pregnancies terminated in Australia because of fetal defects had decreased from 722 in 1994 to 527 in 1996.

He also said that data showed a declining trend in neural tube defects (spina bifida and anencephalus) during the last few decades, with slight fluctuations in recent years.

'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 in Congenital Malformations Australia 1995 and 1996 include:

  • In 1996, birth defects caused 26% of all infant deaths, about 18% of perinatal deaths, and 10% of childhood deaths.
  • Mothers aged 40 years and over had a malformation rate twice that of mothers aged 20-24 years. Older mothers were 13 times more likely to give birth to an infant with a chromosomal abnormality, and 40 times more likely to have a termination for this reason before 20 weeks' gestation.
  • Down syndrome, anencephalus/spina bifida, and cardiac defects were the main reasons given for pregnancy terminations.
  • Isolated and multiple malformations were more common in twins and other multiple births than in single births.

19 May 1999


Further information: Dr Paul Lancaster, NPSU, ph. 02 9382 1047, 02 9382 1014 or 02 9427 0112 (ah).
For media copies of the report: Mrs Lena Searle, AIHW, ph. 02 6244 1032.
Availability: Check the AIHW for details.