Birth Defects Surveillance in Malawi

Malawi is one of first countries in Southeast Africa to respond to the World Health Organization’s call for robust birth surveillance systems. Routine surveillance is essential for public health monitoring of pregnancy outcomes and birth defects, especially in high-HIV burden settings where women living with HIV initiate the use of antiretroviral therapy before or during pregnancy.

Since 2016, the International Training and Education Center for Health, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has supported the implementation of an active hospital-based birth surveillance system at four high-volume facilities in Malawi. To date, a total of 165,608 of births have been assessed. A subset of women are also enrolled in an ongoing nested case control study to assess associations between external birth defects and maternal exposures such as prior health conditions, medications, and environmental and lifestyle factors.

Anticipated use of these data include:

  • Establish a baseline prevalence of external birth defects in Malawi
  • Evaluate the impact of introducing new drugs for the management of HIV (e.g., dolutegravir) on the prevalence of external birth defects
  • Advocate for investment in programs and interventions to reduce the occurrence of birth defects and adverse pregnancy outcomes.