Health PEI considers joining newborn screening program

Health PEI is considering becoming part of the new Maritime Newborn Screening Program at the IWK Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

Currently, a laboratory on P.E.I. screens newborns for several conditions, but other tests that can only be done in Halifax must be requested by a physician, said Dr. Richard Wedge, Health PEI CEO.

The new screening program would see blood samples from all Island newborns tested for an expanded number of conditions — including cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia.

"The main benefit is earlier detection and, therefore, earlier treatment," Wedge said.

"Sometimes with cystic fibrosis, people may have delayed treatment for up to a year or two as they try to sort out why the child has had a number of infections or treatments for a number of cough-related disease. That's generally how cystic fibrosis is picked up. So under a screening program, people would be picked up much sooner."

Health PEI is waiting for information from the IWK on how much it would cost to test the 1,400 to 1,500 Island babies born each year, Wedge said.

He estimates it could cost up to $70,000 annually.

A decision will likely be made this spring, he said.