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Universal newborn screening for cytomegalovirus infection

 On Thursday March 18, I had an opportunity  to speak in the Manitoba Legislature on a bill  to implement universal  newborn screening for cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection.   It is important to identify affected children early because if  they are  missed they can go on to develop hearing and other  neurological problems.   My comments on this  bill are below (from Hansard).

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): First of all, I'd like to thank the member for Union Station (MLA Asagwara) for bringing this forward. It's a valuable contribution and hopefully it will pass. I also want to recognize the efforts of Leanne Rowat in helping to get the original bill passed.

      It is interesting the original universal newborn hearing screening was introduced in 2008 by myself, and in 2013, in circumstances that there were at that time, I teamed up with Leanne Rowat. She introduced it; I seconded it.

      It was a long session that year–we were going all summer, as members may recall–and we got to the end of the summer and it looked like there might be an agreement. And the Conservative caucus had an oppor­tunity to priorize Leanne Rowat's bill for passage but decided to prioritize another one.

      But, at that point, I felt that this was so strong that I told the other House leaders that if they didn't pass this one, I would keep us there 'til Christmas. And they didn't really like staying all the way 'til Christmas, so the bill was passed and, thankfully, it has been a success. It took three years after that–in 2016–before it was implemented. So that was eight years after I had first introduced the bill.

      I think this bill, hopefully, can move a lot faster. There's a whole lot of reasons why it can and it should.  I think there's better recognition now of the need to address newborn hearing issues, and this is an important way to do that.

      Cytomegalovirus infections can be across the placenta, so they can be transmitted from the mother to the child. And there can be a very significant impact on the child, not just on hearing but on neuro­developmental processes. Children can have a small head, can have intra-uterine growth retardation and other things happening, so it's really important that we are addressing this and we are addressing it in an important way.

      Now, the estimate for Manitoba is 0.6 per cent of newborns with CMV, but, in fact, we probably won't know that for sure what it really is until we do the screening and we can test everybody.

      This [screening for CMV] is valuable to do; it is important to do it at birth if you're going to detect it, and this will make a big difference in preventing problems. Children who could go on to have severe hearing or neurological developmental problems can be treated with antiviral agents, and this is improving as we speak. So we hope to be able to even do better in the future than we're doing at the moment.

      So, certainly, let us move this forward. It is a critically important step for the health of children, for the health of our society. Children whose hearing issues are not addressed early on go on to have learning problems, difficulties in school and diffi­culties throughout their life.

      So, it is really important to address this, to do this screening to make sure we're addressing hearing and other neurological problems in children with CMV as early as we possibly can so that we can help them well.

      So with those few words, Madam Speaker, I will pass this on to others or to a vote, I hope. And thank you for the opportunity to speak.

      Merci. Miigwech. Thank you.


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