It’s a Canadian first: by 2018, all newborns born in Ontario will be screened for critical congenital heart disease.

The condition occurs when a baby’s heart or major blood vessels haven’t formed properly.

The program has already rolled out in some communities and the screening is done using a hand-held device that painlessly measures blood oxygen levels.

Approximately 400 to 450 babies are born with CCHD in Ontario each year. Most cases are detected before or immediately after birth but up to 30 per cent of cases are missed.

“We expect to be able to diagnose 50-100 babies a year this way who otherwise would’ve had a delay in their diagnosis and their treatment,” said Dr. Jane Lougheed, the chief of pediatric cardiology at CHEO.

The screenings will be coordinated and implemented by Newborn Screening Ontario which is based at CHEO.

In 2017/18 it will receive up to $14.2M in total funding.