Celebrating 50 Years of Newborn Screening

Friday, December 13, 2019 - 15:20

In 1969, New Zealand became one of the first countries in the world to offer newborn metabolic screening, or the ‘heel prick/Guthrie test’ nationwide. 50 years on and the programme has gone on to become one of the most successful screening programmes in New Zealand and the world.

Dianne Webster, Director, Newborn Metabolic Screening Programme speaking at the 50th anniversary newborn metabolic screening celebration
Dianne Webster, Director, Newborn Metabolic Screening Programme
speaking at the 50th anniversary of the Newborn Metabolic Screening Programme Celebration

The heel prick test means that metabolic conditions can be diagnosed in the first few days of a baby’s life, so that treatment can start straight away, before life-threatening illness or developmental delays occur.

Today 99 percent of all babies born in New Zealand are screened (approximately 64,000) and the programme has evolved considerably over the last 50 years, with more conditions now being screened for and long-term research studies helping to improve treatment regimes.  The programme identifies on average 45 babies a year with a metabolic condition, and has helped thousands of babies to receive early treatment, making an enormous contribution to the health and wellbeing of New Zealand children over this time.

To help mark the 50th anniversary of newborn metabolic screening, a special event was held at parliament on 12th December, hosted by Associate Minister of Health Julie Anne Genter.

The Minister was joined by clinicians, families, midwives, politicians and representatives from across the screening sector to acknowledge the significant impact the programme has had over 50 years, and thank all those involved in its ongoing delivery.

Six unique videos were created for this special event, by the Ministry of Health, that tell the stories of the real difference metabolic screening has made to the lives of New Zealand families. These moving stories are available to view and share on the Ministry of Health’s You Tube Channel here: (link). They include the story of baby Stella, who was the first New Zealand baby to be diagnosed with Severe Combined Immune Deficiency Syndrome (SCID), introduced into the testing schedule as recently as 2017.

Read more about the anniversary of newborn metabolic screening on the Ministry of Health website: 

View the six videos on this website:

Page last updated: 13 December 2019