The Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana, in collaboration with the American Society of Haematology, has launched a new-born screening programme at the Greater Accra Regional Hospital and the 37 Military Hospital.
The programme is expected to make sickle-cell diagnosis easier and faster in order to reduce the child mortality rate associated with sickle-cell disease. Speaking at the programme’s launch, president of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana, Prof. Kwaku Ohene-Frempong, stated that about 75 percent of the 450,000 new-borns with sickle-cell are found in sub-Saharan Africa – of which an estimated 50 to 90 percent is lost to child mortality.
“Of 450,000 new-born children with sickle-cell in the world, 75 percent are found in sub-Saharan Africa; and it has been estimated that we lose around 50 to 90 percent to mortality in Africa.
“About 9 to 16 percent of this mortality rate is found in West Africa; so, every baby born in Africa and other parts of the world where sickle-cell is prevalent is supposed to be screened so we know who has the disease and must be given the inexpensive treatment of taking penicillin twice a day,” he said.
Prof. Ohene-Frempong further added that the process of new-born screening not only saves lives but also informs parents and family members how to care for persons living with sickle-cell disease.
He explained that the new-born screening started in 1993 with an expansion plan to have all new-borns in Ghana tested for sickle-cell disease by 2016, but there have been some challenges in achieving this goal.
“We introduced sickle-cell new-born screening back in 1993, even though we had developed a 5-year expansion programme so that by the end of 2016 every baby in Ghana would have been screened for sickle-cell at birth. The programme has still not been able to expand due to lack of support.
“We have, however, in the last 3 years been working closely with a pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, to enable us start new-born screening at Korle-BU and extend it to a number of places,” he said.
Also speaking at the event, a representative of the Ghana Health Service, Dr. Kofi Issah, said the Ghana Health Service’s strategy for the next 3 years includes an intervention package for sickle-cell patients as well as extending the screening process to other health facilities under the Ghana Health Service.
“In line with the Health Service’s strategy for the next 3 years ending 2023, there is an intervention package that includes screening new-borns for sickle-cell disease.
The launch is not only critical for facilities at that level of care, like the Greater Accra Regional Hospital and 37 Military Hospital, but so all facilities under the Ghana Health service are able to improve access to screening services for the children of this country,” he said.
The event also highlighted the screening process by demonstrating how new-borns are screened by just pricking the heel of new-born babies. The new-born screening programme is free at the two health facilities where the programme was launched.