Brussels—Nigeria, which has had mandatory wheat flour fortification legislation in place since 2002, is now adding folic acid to Fortification Standard. Folic acid is a B vitamin known for preventing serious or fatal birth defects of the spine and brain called neural tube defects (NTDs).
This change represents extensive advocacy work by multiple partners and national leaders in Nigeria. It is worth celebrating as fortifying flour with folic acid reduces the risk of children having severe neural tube birth defects by an average of 46%, according to one meta-analysis.
Globally 84 countries have legislation that mandates fortification of wheat flour, maize flour, or rice. Now the only countries which omit folic acid from their wheat flour fortification standards are the Congo, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela. Papua New Guinea also omits folic acid from its rice fortification standard.
All people need folic acid to produce and maintain healthy cells. Women who might become pregnant need 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, according to at least one month before conception and in the early stages of pregnancy. This can prevent the majority of neural tube defects (NTDs).
Recently, the study entitled "Long term trends in prevalence of neural tube defects in Europe: population based study" provided clear evidence of the efficacy of folic acid in preventing neural tube defects. The study states that the prevalence of neural tube defects (NTD) in Europe has not declined substantially in the past 20 years, despite long-standing recommendations for women to take folic acid supplements if planning a pregnancy.