The newborn screening test you probably haven’t heard of, but which is routinely done around the world

October 13, 2016

There's a lot that is different seven years after having my first child. There are new products like mosquito-repellent sleep sacs, glass bottles and a "shushing" machine that makes the "shush shush" sound to calm babies.

Another thing that's different for me, and on a more serious note, is that I'm no longer glossing over preventative medical tests, and procedures such as stem cell banking (read here about why I didn't do it the first time round, and why I did it the second time). Whatever has been on offer, I've taken it seriously and questioned the pros and cons harder, whether it's a hearing test, non-invasive prenatal testing, and most recently, newborn screening.


Perhaps I'm more serious this time because I'm older. Maybe it's because I realise what my firstborn's life means to me, or maybe because I've read so many real-life stories (not medical journals) of things that go wrong, or of parents raising awareness and funds to find a stem cell donor for their sick children.

Whatever the case, I'm trying to be as covered as I can, which is why opting for newborn screening called FirstScreen from Next Biosciences was a no-brainer. The scary thing is that it might have been a no-brainer for me, but most South Africans have never heard of it.

This test, which picks up inherited metabolic disorders that might otherwise go undetected until it is too late, is routinely done around in the world. It's recognised globally as a critical form of preventative health care, yet in SA fewer than 1% of newborns were screened in 2012, compared with similar developing countries such as Thailand and Brazil, where an estimated 97% and 80% of newborns respectively, are screened shortly after birth.


More about FirstScreen

FirstScreen is a newborn screening test done in collaboration with North-West University, and alerts medical staff to a list of metabolic or endocrine diseases, including cystic fibrosis. The test is done 48-72 hours after a baby's birth, involves a simple heel pin prick, and costs about R1200.

Why all newborns should be screened

These disorders involve the metabolism of nutrients in the body, leading to abnormalities in body chemistry. Our bodies need proteins, fats and carbohydrates to be broken down and absorbed from the foods that we eat so that we can build body tissues like muscle, bones, blood, nerves and brain tissue. Once symptoms appear, they are often irreversible, leading to severe health and developmental problems or even death.

More about the process

Once you've opted for the test, Next Biosciences will send a nurse to your hospital bed to take the test. In our case, it was two days after our baby was born. A few drops of blood will be taken from your baby’s heel and put on a special blotting paper card.

The card will be couriered to North-West University where the testing will be one. Next Biosciences will inform you and your paediatrician of the result. We got our results just over a week after the test, and were informed that our paed had been emailed. 

The process was very smooth and organised, and we barely had to do anything. Our paediatrician seemed pleased that we were doing the testing, and said that she would recommend it to other parents.

Want to find out more about FirstScreen? Read more on the NEXT Bio website, or watch this video:

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