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Any guesses what the most common preventable cause of intellectual impairment might be?

Infantile Hypothyroidism.

Ever hear of it? It should be a lot better known. Because it is totally preventable. A simple blood test at birth reliably confirms the disorder which is caused either by an Iodine Deficiency or Congenital Hypothyroidism (the lack of or deficiency of thyroid hormone at birth).

One in 4000 babies worldwide is born with the disorder. In India, it’s 1 in 1200. And in Uttarakhand, where Iodine Deficiency is a well-known problem, the number is probably even higher. Untreated, Infantile Hypothyroidism results in serious mental handicap and a host of related problems. With timely detection and proper treatment, the disorder disappears. Like magic. Inexpensive, effective, magic.

A few weeks ago, my colleague Dr Shubha Nagesh and I met Manisha Pawar, the Health Secretary for Uttarakhand. We were there to talk about our plans to expand Gubbara, but Manisha had just met a thyroid expert at a conference in Delhi and she was excited about what seemed like an promising possibility for a public health initiative.

She asked us what we knew about Infantile Hypothyroidism. Luckily, we knew a fair amount. Shubha, of course, being a doctor, had it all down pat. I simply had a vivid memory of another doctor – a woman I had heard speak at a conference many years earlier. Dr Anju Virmani, a pediatric endocrinologist from Delhi, had spoken movingly and convincingly about the need for mandatory screening in India.

That was in 2001. Now, ten years later, we had a chance to influence public policy. Manisha asked us if we could prepare a paper on the issue and Shubha immediately agreed.

One day later, I had re-connected with Dr Virmani and she gave us a number of important leads. A week after that, Shubha’s paper was ready.

And now, it’s off to the races!

If we can pull this off – all of us working together: Shubha, Manisha, Anju and me – what a coup for the babies of Uttarakhand! Just imagine!

  • Banno

    I wish for the babies of Uttarakhand, that all of you succeed in what you have set out to do.

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