Pediatric surgeon Dr Rajendra Kumar, of the John Hunter Children’s Hospital is concerned about the rapid growth in gastroschisis cases not only in Australia, but around the world.
Pediatric surgeon Dr Rajendra Kumar, of the John Hunter Children’s Hospital is concerned about the rapid growth in gastroschisis cases not only in Australia, but around the world.

Theory about birth defect cluster

A SENIOR children's surgeon has laid out a plan that could ultimately nail down the cause and allow parents to avoid a disturbing condition that causes babies to be born with some organs outside their bodies.

Dr Rajendra Kumar, a pediatric surgeon attached to the Hunter-New England health district, was one of the doctors behind a report that ruled out claims their was a cluster of babies with the condition, called gastroschisis, on the Northern Rivers.

The report is yet to be released, but the main finding has sparked anger from par-ents of children with the condition, who feel their concerns have been dismissed.

However, Dr Kumar said parents were essentially right in their concerns.

There had been a jump in gastroschisis cases on the Northern Rivers – the difficulty was that there had been a jump in cases across the globe.

As recently as 1997, the condition afflicted 0.4 Australian babies in every 10,000 live births.

The national figure, as best anyone can tell, is now more like 3.16 babies in every 10,000 births.

The Northern Rivers figures were similar to those in the Hunter-New England area, which, with a rate of 4.7 babies with gastroschisis for every 10,000 live births, had the nat-ion's highest recorded incidence of the condition.

On suggestions the high rate of the condition could be linked to the use of agricultural chemicals, in particular atrazine, Dr Kumar said it was impossible to rule chemicals out.

However, metropolitan areas had also seen rapid growth in gastroschisis, and that suggested there was something more complex than an individual chemical going on.

Whatever that was had doctors and medical researchers baffled.

Among the things adding to the mystery was inconsistency in the growth rates for the condition, both geographically and over time.

Some areas reported higher rates than others and some areas reported high rates in some years and low rates in others.

Dr Kumar said doctors needed more detailed information to have a chance at finding the true cause of the condition.

He wants to see a data correlation project run across Australia, which documented the birth of every baby with gastroschisis along with detailed information about the baby.

Once complete, those figures would give doctors and medical researchers their first clear picture of the spread of the condition across the nation and the different rates in different areas.

Answering the question of who was getting gastroschisis and where would allow doctors and researchers to then look at the differences between babies born with the condition and those born without it and between the areas with high rates of the condition and those with low rates.

Dr Kumar said he planned to propose the data project at the next national gathering of pediatric surgeons.

He was unable to put a timeframe on the project, but said he hoped it would begin “soon”.



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