The Ontario government is going to extend its screening program of newborns for inherited disorders. Babies are currently tested for two diseases. Under the new program, they will be tested for an additional 19.
Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman (CP file photo)
These rare metabolic disorders are difficult to diagnose through symptoms. Once detected, many can be handled with a careful diet and treatment.
Tammy Clark is founder of Save Babies Through Screening Foundation of Canada. Her website explains the importance of screening.
"Affected babies are at risk of mental retardation, physical disabilities and even death if they are not diagnosed and treated early. Comprehensive newborn screening gives you the opportunity to protect your baby from the preventable complications of undiagnosed problems. If your baby is affected, newborn screening can play a key role in allowing you child to live a normal life."
However, there is no national standard for newborn tests. While some tests are universally conducted, screening for others is done in just one or two provinces.
In 2002, Tammy Clark's nine-month-old daughter Jenna died of MCAD, a metabolic disorder that could have been detected with a $40 test.
"It should not be baby roulette, or winning the baby lottery," said Clark. "It shouldn't be that those in Saskatchewan that have MCAD are living normal healthy lives, in the meantime I have to go and visit my daughter at the cemetery. This is not right."
Despite the extension of Ontario's program, it still will test for far fewer disorders than in other jurisdictions like New York's 44 tests and California's 75.
Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman says his province's program represents a major advance and could be extended further.
The startup cost of the Ontario tests is $2 million with an annual price tag of another $2 million.