NHIS must cover sickle cell medication, Hydroxyurea – Prof. Isaac Odame advocates

NHIS must cover sickle cell medication, Hydroxyurea - Prof. Isaac Odame advocates

A Ghanaian Pediatric Hematologist at Toronto, Canada, Prof. Isaac Odame has called on government to ensure that the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) covers the cost of Hydroxyurea, a drug used for the treatment of sickle cell in the country.

He said the incorporation would make the drug available to all across the country to treat children born with sickle cell and prevent the many deaths due to the patient or family’s inability to afford the medicine.

“NHIS coverage for Hydroxyurea is the solution to tackling sickle cell in the country as it would provide the opportunity for many children diagnosed of the blood disease to be treated and saved,” he said at the 8th Konuah, Halm-Addo, Awuletey, Alema Memorial Lecture held at Accra Academy as part of activities outlined to celebrate the school’s 90th Anniversary.

The lecture was in honour of the founders of Accra Academy: Kofi George Konuah, James Akwei Ham-Addo, Samuel Neils Awuletey and Gottfried Narku Alema, and had the theme ‘Hydroxyurea Treatment for Sickle Cell Disease in Ghana; Bringing Comfort to Many More’ which was aimed at promoting the use of Hydroxyurea to treat sickle cell disease in the country, especially among children.

“The drug, as approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the treatment of sickle cell, is efficacious, effective, and safe and could be affordable when covered by the NHIS. Novartis has agreed to produce enough for the country for a period but in order to ensure every child born of sickle cell receives the treatment, it must be on the NHIS so that more could be produced to meet the demand. If patients are treated, they could live a normal life as any other child as the disease does not cause birth defects in humans,” he said.

For his part, the special Guest of Honour for the occasion, Dr. Edward Doe Adjaho urged all stakeholders to get involved in ensuring that many people across the country benefited from the hydroxyurea treatment. “That is a good call and would urge government to take steps to ensure that the drug was placed on the NHIS for the benefit of children across the country,” he stressed.

Chairman for the occasion, Wilson Quartey Tei, also expressed appreciation to the organisers as the lecture would go a long way to impact on healthcare in Ghana. He added that it was important to raise awareness on sickle cell as it has become a devastating health concern in Ghana and the world at large.

Ghana, in 2018 became the first nation in sub-Saharan Africa to provide quality healthcare for sickle cell patients following the introduction of Hydroxyurea drug in the country. The drug which was brought into the country following a collaboration between the Sickle Cell Foundation, Ministry of Health and Novartis has been available across the country to help patients live a normal life.

The initiative was borne out of a Memorandum of Understanding between Ghana and Novartis, a global healthcare company based in Switzerland at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, 2018. This partnership led to the launch of the ‘Ahodwo Programme’ aimed at making the drug available in Ghana for free.

Nearly 3700 patients have since been entered into the programme and have received Hydroxyurea in the first phase of the programme which covered few regions with the next phase scheduled to spread across the country. With an estimated 15,000 births affected by sickle cell disease every year in Ghana, the programme would not be able to reach out to all without additional support, hence the need for it to be covered by the NHIS.

The event was supported by the Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana, Sickle Cell Association of Ghana, Ghana Medical Association and Ghana Registered Nurses Association.  The Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, Ghana College of Nurses and Midwives, Ghana College of Pharmacists and the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana also participated in the lecture. The occasion was also used to launch the 80th Anniversary Book of Bleoo74 – lead sponsors of the event.

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