To determine the availability of national systems for surveillance of birth defects in Latin America and the Caribbean and describe their characteristics.
Cross-sectional study based on a semi-structured, self-administered online survey sent in 2017 by local representative offices of the Pan American Health Organization to authorities at the ministries of health of all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The survey obtained information on the availability and characteristics of national systems for surveillance of birth defects in each country.
Eleven countries have a national system for surveillance of birth defects: Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela. These systems have heterogeneous features: six are hospital-based; 10 include both live births and stillbirths in their case definition. All the surveillance systems include cases with severe and minor defects, except in Argentina, Colombia, and Guatemala, where only severe birth defects are recorded. Only Argentina, Costa Rica, and Uruguay prepare periodic reports that consolidate and present the results of surveillance. The registries in Argentina and Costa Rica have operational manuals.
The availability of national systems for surveillance of birth defects remains limited and highly heterogeneous in Latin America and the Caribbean. Priority should be given to continued expansion and strengthening of this type of surveillance in these countries.