Congenital heart defects in children explained

In light of Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, which takes place from today until 14 February, we explore the topic of congenital heart defects in children.

What is a congenital heart defect?

CHD is a type of congenital disorder (CD) or birth defect. Although congenital defects affect one in every 15 births in South Africa (SA), they are not being prioritised as a health care issue. “Too often, congenital defects go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed and the patient does not receive the appropriate care they need – which can be a matter of life and death”, says Helen Malherbe, Genetic Alliance South Africa (GA-SA) Chair. Twice as many children die from congenital heart defects each year than from all forms of childhood cancer combined, yet funding for paediatric cancer research is five times higher than funding for CHD.

What does CHD do to children?

According to Children’s Health, children diagnosed with a CHD at birth may experience difficulties with poor blood circulation, fatigue or rapid breathing. Some may have an increased risk of developing other medical conditions. The severity of congenital heart defects ranges from complex to simpler problems.

CHD Awareness Week

CHD is not new and, as the statistics prove it is extremely prevalent. Yet the South African Health Department does not recognise CHD Awareness Week, which runs from 7-14 February every year, or even CHD Awareness Day (14 February). Sadly, one in every 100 babies is born with a heart defect but in our country, many of those go undetected. “The SA government is yet to respond to the 2010 World Health Resolution 63.17 calling for member countries to prioritise congenital defects as a health care issue. Recognising awareness days for these common, costly and critical conditions, starting with CHD, is a step in the right direction and one that we cannot afford to miss,” says Malherbe.

What expectant parents need to know

There are three things all expectant parents should do:

  • Ask your OB-Gyn to check thoroughly for CHDs during their 20-week scans.
  • Ask for a Pulse Oximetry (PulseOx) screen before taking your newborn baby home.
  • Join CHD communities, which bring focus to CHD, educate parents on what to do to protect their kids going forward, and raise funds to empower CHD research.

For more information, visit Sources: Children’s Health, Paediatric Cardiac Society of South Africa, Centres of Disease Prevention and ControlChildren’s Heart FoundationCongenital Heart Defects, Heart Kids  


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