ALL babies born in Irish hospitals will be routinely tested for cystic fibrosis (CF) before the summer.
The screening will be added to the heel prick test, which is automatically given to newborns to detect other disorders.
The long-awaited introduction of the CF screening -- originally recommended in 2005 -- is due to begin in the second quarter of the year, according to the Health Service Executive's (HSE) service plan.
Ireland has one of the highest incidences of CF in the world and, compared with many other countries with lower rates of the disease, has been slower in introducing the programme.
This, despite evidence that the earlier it is detected and treated, the less damage is done to the child's respiratory system. The baby can avoid malnutrition and respiratory distress, while early diagnosis is also said to increase the sufferer's life expectancy.
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition. One study by UCD's School of Public Health estimated that the incidence of CF is as high as one in every 1,353 births in Ireland.
It is caused by a faulty gene which allows too much salt and not enough water into cells. This results in a build up of thick, sticky mucus in the body's tubes and passageways.
These blockages damage the lungs, digestive system and other organs, and cause swelling in the lungs and repeated infections.
A baby with CF needs pancreatic enzymes to help them digest food.
The UCD study found the average age at which children with CF were diagnosed was six months for boys and over four months for girls.
Dr Gerry Loftus, a professor of paediatrics at NUI Galway and chairman of the Newborn Screening for Cystic Fibrosis Steering Group, said the newborn screening meant that doctors could begin treating the babies to improve their lung function and nutrition, improving their survival chances.
People with cystic fibrosis have long campaigned for better facilities to alleviate the risks in having to share wards with other patients who may have infections.
After years of delays, the contract was finally signed last year for the construction of a new ward block development in St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin to provide 100 single en-suite rooms to accommodate cystic fibrosis, liver disease, oncology and other specific illnesses.
These facilities will be opened in April 2012.