More than 100,000 low-income women are receiving free multivitamins with folic acid in an effort to reduce birth defects thanks to the March of Dimes North Carolina Preconception Health Campaign. Last month, the campaign ordered 110,000 bottles of multivitamins and distributed them to health departments and community safety-net agencies participating in the Statewide Multivitamin Distribution Program.
Originally funded as a part of a bill passed by the N.C. General Assembly in 2009, the program distributes multivitamins with folic acid to low income, non-pregnant women of childbearing age through health departments and other safety-net providers. Since 2010, the North Carolina Division of Public Health Women’s Health Branch and the March of Dimes have worked together through a publicprivate partnership to ensure the continuation of this vital program. Since the program’s inception, more than 500,000 bottles of vitamins have been distributed statewide.
Two hundred thirty-four agencies originally signed up for the program and today over half of them are still participating and more continue to join the program. Almost all of the state’s county health departments and numerous community health centers and safety-net clinics are providing free multivitamins at no cost to lowincome women.
Research shows that if all women consume the recommended amount of folic acid before and during early pregnancy, up to 70 percent of all neural tube defects, serious birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, could be prevented. Latest research from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey conducted by the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics reports that overall, daily multivitamin use in North Carolina increased from 29 percent in 2007 to 43 percent in 2010 (NC BRFSS).
“We are delighted to be able to continue this program,” said Maggie Tomei, Chair of the March of Dimes North Carolina Preconception Health Campaign’s Executive Committee and Account Supervisor at Crittenden Advertising in Raleigh. “We’ve really seen a need from our participating agencies to continue to offer multivitamins to their clients. What started off as a one-time appropriation has led to an ongoing program that health departments and health care providers have a vested interest in continuing. Thousands of women will start or continue a healthy habit as a result of this program; we’ll likely be seeing the results of it for years to come in fewer numbers of babies born with devastating birth defects.”
The March of Dimes North Carolina Preconception Health Campaign trains all participating health care providers about the importance of folic acid and how to track and distribute vitamins as part of the program. Regional coordinators provide health education on site and an online program to train providers via everywomannc. com is also utilized.
Although neural tube defect rates have dropped in North Carolina, the financial cost of spina bifida to taxpayers remains high. In a recent analysis of Medicaid claims during the first year of life for children with spina bifida, the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics found that Medicaid expenses for children with spina bifida are more than 12 times greater than the average (median) cost for all Medicaid live births.
Health care providers play a critical role in promoting multivitamin use. Eighty-nine percent of women who do not take multivitamins say they would be likely to do so on the recommendation of their health care provider, according to a March of Dimes-sponsored Gallup Organization poll in 2008. Providing tools such as a free, one-year supply of vitamins simultaneously with face-to-face health care provider counseling has been shown by recent research to move individuals from knowledge to action and allow women to change their behavior immediately.