Understanding Antenatal Genetics Services in Sri Lanka: Current Landscape of Screening and Diagnostic Services and Contextual Factors Influencing Their Availability and Uptake
Background: Too little information is available on Sri Lanka’s current capacity to provide community genetic services—antenatal genetic services in particular—to understand whether building that capacity could further improve and reduce disparity in maternal and child health. This qualitative research project seeks to gather information on congenital disorders, routine antenatal care, and the current state of antenatal screening testing services within that routine antenatal to assess the feasibility of and the need for scaling up antenatal genetics services in Sri Lanka. Methods: Nineteen key informant (KI) interviews were conducted with stakeholders in antenatal care and genetic services. Seven focus group discussions were held with a total of 56 Public Health Midwives (PHMs), the health workers responsible for antenatal care at the field level. Transcripts for all interviews and FGDs were analyzed for key themes, and themes were categorized to address the specific aims of the project. Results: Antenatal genetic services play a minor role in antenatal care, with screening and diagnostic procedures available in the private sector and paid for out-of-pocket. KIs and PHMs expect that demand for antenatal genetic services will increase as patients’ purchasing power and knowledge grow but note that prohibitive abortion laws limit the ability of patients to act on test results. Genetic services compete for limited financial and human resources in the free public health system, and inadequate information on the prevalence of congenital disorders limits the ability to understand whether funding for services related to those disorders should be increased. A number of alternatives to scaling up antenatal genetic services within the free health system might be better suited to the Sri Lankan structural and social context. Conclusions: Scaling up antenatal genetic services within the public health system is not feasible in the current financial, legal, and human resource context. Yet current availability and utilization patterns contribute to regional and economic disparities, suggesting that stasis will not bring continued improvements in maternal and child health. More information on the burden of congenital disorders is necessary to fully understand if and how antenatal genetic service availability should be increased in Sri Lanka, but even before that information is gathered, examination of policies for patient referral, termination of pregnancy, and government support for individuals with genetic disease are steps that might bring extend improvements and reduce disparity in maternal and child health.
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