12,000 Sickle cell baby deaths annually

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BY: Nana Konadu-Agyeman
Prof. Kwaku Ohene-Frempong, President, Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana, speaking at the dissemination meeting on newborn screening for sickle cell disease at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital. Picture: INNOCENT K.OWUSU
Prof. Kwaku Ohene-Frempong, President, Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana, speaking at the dissemination meeting on newborn screening for sickle cell disease at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital. Picture: INNOCENT K.OWUSU

It is estimated that between 7,000 and 12,000 out of 15,000 newborn babies with sickle cell in Ghana die every year because the disease is unknown to their parents.

Currently, one in every 50 children is born with the disease and about 50 to 90 per cent of the vulnerable children die before age five.

Two renowned sickle cell experts, who stated this in Accra last Friday, said: “These vulnerable children die at a young age and most doctors examining them, without having done any blood test, cannot guess that the children died of sickle cell disease.”

Non-execution of policy

The President of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana, Professor Kwaku Ohene-Frimpong, and Prof. Isaac Odame of the Sickle Kids Centre for Global Health in Toronto, Canada, blamed the unfortunate problem on the failure of the Ministry of Health (MoH) to implement the National Sickle Cell Policy since 2011.

“Based on data of sickle cell screening of newborn babies at the Sickle Cell Centre at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) since 1995, we have realised that as a country, we can reduce child mortality from about 80 to 90 per cent to about five per cent.


“It is unheard of in medicine that simple testing and intervention can reduce mortality drastically but we have failed to implement the National Sickle Cell Policy adopted by the Ministry of Health since 2011,” they stated.

Policy

The policy requires the establishment of sickle cell centres at the various regional hospitals where “every newborn child shall be tested” to allow early detection of sickle cell among the estimated 15,000 children born with the disease each year.

A section of the participants

Among others, the policy is to allow sickle cell facilities to administer early simple penicillin prophylaxis and other interventions that would prevent babies with the disease from dying and developing complications such as malaria and stroke.

Foreign support

Currently, it is only the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH) and the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) that have set up sickle cell centres to test and treat newborn babies with the disease.

In 2016, the availability of funds from Pfizer Incorporated, a US-based pharmaceutical company, helped the two facilities to test 26,000 newborns for sickle cell disease.

However, with limited funds in 2017, a total of 11,554 and 8,731 newborns were tested for the disease in 2017 and 2018 at the two teaching hospitals.

Implement policy now

At a dissemination meeting for newborn screening for sickle cell disease project at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Prof. Ohene-Frimpong said the implementation of the National Sickle Cell Policy and the inclusion of SCD under the national health insurance scheme would facilitate the testing of the average 15,000 children born with the disease in Ghana every year.

Protect lives of children

For his part, Prof. Odame said too many children were dying of the disease while “we wait to scale up” the project across the country.

“The amount of money we spend buying cars as a nation and other things will screen so many thousands of babies and a national policy intervention needs to be done and done quickly to set up SCD units across the country. We ought to invest in making sure that in protecting the lives of these children we are providing them with good quality care to enable them to live long and contribute their share to our national economy,” he stated.