Sickle Cell Disease (SCD), a genetic blood disorder which affects the red blood cells, is one of the leading causes of child mortality and accounts for a huge percentage of infant deaths annual in Nigeria.
According to available statistics, an estimated 150,000 babies in Nigeria are born with sickle cell disease (SCD). More than 75 per cent of the global burden of the disorder occur in Sub-Saharan Africa and over 90 per cent of children with SCD do not survive to adulthood in resource-poor countries.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), estimates that up to 15 per cent of mortality in children younger than 5 years of age is due to SCD.
Unfortunately, many parents cannot help this situation and alot of children do not live past the age of five due to lack of awareness, access to diagnostic testing and comprehensive care.
In response to this challenge, the University of Abuja and the Sickle Cell Support Society of Nigeria has launched the Consortium on Newborn Screening in Africa (CONSA) with sites in Abuja and Kaduna to screen 16, 000 babies for sickle cell disease every year in the country and provide clinical follow-up for babies living with SCD.
The Nigerian National Coordinator of CONSA, Professor Obiageli Nnodu, who stated this during the launch of the sites recently, said newborn screening allows families to know their baby’s status and seek low-cost interventions that can reduce adverse health outcomes.
The disorder, according to her, causes normal round and flexible blood cells to become stiff and sickle shaped, which in turn stops the blood cells and the oxygen they carry from moving freely around the body.
The CONSA intervention against Sickle Cell disease is also implemented in Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
According to her, “SCD is a genetic blood disorder that can be passed to a child when both parents have the Sickle Cell Trait. Normally, red blood cells are disc shaped and flexible to move easily through the blood vessels. For those living with SCD, red blood cells are crescent or “sickle” shaped. These cells do not bend and move easily and can block blood flow to the rest of the body.
“Individuals with SCD suffer from acute pain episodes and chronic pain and may be affected by various other organ complications, which can cause disability or even death”.
In Abuja, the sites include the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada Town Clinic, Dobi Clinic, and Dagiri Clinic and other primary and secondary hospitals in the Federal Capital Territory and Federal Medical Centre Keffi.
“In Kaduna, the sites include Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital, Yusuf Dantsoho Memorial Hospital, Gwamna Awan Memorial Hospital, Kawo General Hospital. As mothers deliver children in the hospitals, or bring them to the clinic for their first vaccines, they will be offered the screening.
We are excited to be the first country in CONSA to launch sites to demonstrate how newborn screening as an important public health intervention can save lives of babies born with sickle cell disease in Nigeria”.
Staff will examine the long-term health outcomes of people with SCDuptotheageoffive,providing low-cost interventions and education to the family. Through such interventions, we aim to reduceunder-fivemortality,support achieving Nigeria’s Sustainable Development Goals, and promote the quality of life for all those affected with SCD.”
Also speaking during the launch of the sites, the minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said the burden of sickle cell disease in the country was further worsened by transfusion of hepatitis B, C and HIV/AIDS. The minister added, before 2014, there was no coordinated approach to collecting data on the number of sickle cell disease patient in the country, therefore it became necessary to screen the children at birth and enroll them in intensive care.