Launch of the All-island Folic Acid Campaign

I am delighted to be here today in Enniskillen to jointly announce the launch of an All-island Folic Acid campaign.

It has been scientifically proven for many years that an increased intake of the B vitamin, folic acid, taken before conception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy could reduce a woman’s risk of having a baby born with a neural tube defect such as spina bifida by about 70%..

Neural tube defects occur more frequently in Ireland than in most other countries with about 7 babies born affected every month in the South and 2 babies each month in the North.

Those of us here today, probably know the benefits of taking folic acid but recent information tells us that while some women are aware of folic acid the actual benefit is unclear as is the best time to take it.

Folic acid is a natural B vitamin. As it cannot be made by the body, it needs to be taken in as food or as a supplement. Doctors believe that although folic acid is found in many foods, it is very difficult to get enough to help protect an unborn baby from food alone.

Today’s campaign launch is about raising awareness of the benefits of folic acid. The issue had been individually addressed by the Health Promotion Unit of my Department in 1996 and also by the Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland as recently as 1998. In previous years a good relation ship has been built between the two bodies with many meetings involving exchanging of views and sharing of ideas. This has led to the idea of the two bodies working together for the benefit of public of the island as a whole.

The campaign which has been undertaken in the spirit of collaboration between the two bodies aims to increase the public’s knowledge of the benefits of taking folic acid in the prevention of neural tube defects, to encourage a positive attitude to taking folic acid and also to promote the necessary behavioural changes to that more women of child bearing age take sufficient folic acid before becoming pregnant and in the early weeks of pregnancy.

There are a number of ways which the message will be put across the target audience.

  • The main element is radio and television advertising the North and South which will focus on taking a folic acid supplement as being good for you and your baby
  • The advertisements will be backed up by an information leaflet which will be widely available, especially where the folic acid supplements can be purchased.
  • It is also intended to generate general public discussion on the benefits of folic acid, so that the message can be carried to women by friends and family.

In order for the campaign to succeed, the support of a number of bodies has been necessary. These are the Health Professionals, such as GPs, midwives, practice nurses, health visitors, health promotion specialists, pharmacists, dietitians, family planning and supports organisations for those with neural tube defects.

Co-operation has helped to get to where we are for today campaign, and I would like to thank all the officials involved for the professionalism and dedication to what will help the special time of the birth of a baby, better for more throughout the island.