Childbirth is a roll of the dice. A genetic gamble. And the stakes couldn’t be higher—life, or at least its quality. In India, chromosomal abnormalities—which can result in conditions ranging from Down to Patau syndrome—occur in 1 in every 166 children conceived. The rate of Down Syndrome, 1 in 800. Odds no parent is comfortable with. Nor should they be. India is home to the largest number of children born with genetic disorders in the world.

Faced with such a predicament, prospective parents are an anxious lot. With 25 million births each year in India, there’s a lot of anxiety to go around.

For a while now, science has allowed parents and doctors to stack the deck in their favour. At least to some extent. Various prenatal screening methods have allowed expecting parents a glimpse of the risks facing their unborn children. A chance to avoid having a child that will endure a compromised quality of life, or at least the opportunity to prepare for the challenges to come.

But these, too, are far from perfect. A trade-off between accuracy and safety. Non-invasive methods such as triple or quadruple screen tests are safe. However, with detection rates of 69% and 81%, respectively, there’s still a decent amount of uncertainty. Then there are the invasive procedures such as chorionic villus sampling (CVS) and amniocentesis. Highly accurate (98-99%), but with grave risks. In CVS, the risk of miscarriage is 1 in 200, while amniocentesis is slightly less risky, with miscarriages occurring in only 1 out of every 1,000 cases. Russian roulette, indeed.

A new generation of testing, however, may provide the succour that so many expecting parents desperately crave.

Non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT), developed in 2011, is the gold standard of prenatal testing. It requires a small amount of blood drawn from the mother’s arm, testing the child’s genes in the mother’s blood. Since it’s non-invasive, the risk of miscarriage plummets to zero. If that wasn’t already proof of its superiority, NIPT diagnoses 85% of all chromosomal abnormalities and has an accuracy of over 99%.

The possibility of false results

The current prenatal screening tests for chromosomal abnormalities like double marker test have false positive rates of 2–7%, while NIPT’s false positive rate is less than 0.1%.

A no-brainer then, right?

Ideally.

NIPT has taken the developed world by storm. They are convinced that it is the prenatal test of the future. First introduced in 2011 in the US, the UK’s National Health Service is going to offer it to about 10,000 women this year who are considered at greater risk of giving birth to a baby with genetic disorders.

AUTHOR

Ruhi Kandhari

Ruhi writes on the impact of healthcare policies, trends in the healthcare sector and developments on the implementation of Electronic Health Records in India. She has an M. Sc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics.

View Full Profile

Available exclusively to subscribers of The Ken India

This story is a part of The Ken India edition. Subscribe. Questions?

MOST POPULAR

Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750

Subscribe
 

Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 60+ new stories with 3-months worth of archives from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 1,750

Subscribe
 

Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500

Subscribe
MOST POPULAR

Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120

Subscribe
 

Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 35+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 50

Subscribe
 

Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20

Subscribe

Questions?

What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at [email protected] detailing the error or queries.