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Release: Nov. 23, 1999

Commission study gives Iowa Birth Defects Registry high mark

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Iowa Birth Defects Registry, located at the University of Iowa, is one of only eight state registries to receive an "A" for its surveillance and analytic programs in a study released by the Pew Environmental Commission at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.

The commission's researchers evaluated each state's monitoring effort and graded each on its quality. One-third of the states received an "F" grade because they do not currently track birth defects at all. Only eight states were awarded an "A" for having birth defects surveillance systems that will provide useful information for future research.

"Today, only 20 percent of birth defects have known causes," says Paul Romitti, Ph.D., associate in the UI College of Public Health and director of the Iowa Birth Defects Registry. "Without continued research and surveillance at both the state and national levels, public health researchers are working in the dark."

The Iowa Birth Defects Registry is a statewide reporting system that works with all Iowa hospitals and specialty clinics to collect information about birth defects diagnosed among state residents. The information is used to study potential causes of birth defects and to assess trends in their occurrence and mortality within the state.

The Pew Commission study reported that while federal and state investments in birth defects monitoring over the past two decades have produced some excellent surveillance systems, much more needs to be done.

"What we need is full funding of the Birth Defects Prevention Act of 1998," said Jennifer L. Howse, Ph.D., president of the March of Dimes and a member of the commission. "This legislation called for more surveillance, research, education and services to prevent birth defects and protect children, but without full funding the job just won't get done."

Romitti agreed, stating, "while our surveillance system has been ranked among the best, we currently lack funding for prevention and education efforts. Helping to decrease the incidence of birth defects through research and education should be a fundamental part of our activities here at the registry."

Currently, the Iowa Birth Defects Registry receives less than 10 percent of its annual operating budget from the state. The remaining money comes from the federal government.