LIBERIA – The Ministry of health in Liberia in collaboration with the Consortium on Newborn Screening in Africa (CONSA) have launched a new facility for infant Sickle Cell Disease screening at the country’s leading hospital, John F. Kennedy Medical Center (JFKMC).
The Liberian Health Ministry also admonished medical doctors, nurses, as well as health practitioners to buff efforts in providing health and social counselling for patients of sickle cell for societal integration.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited red blood cell disorder that can cause debilitating pain and lead to lifelong complications. For years there have been limited improvements in awareness and treatment options, but that seems to be changing.
“There’s no medicines that cure sickle cell disease, but treatments may relieve pain, prevent complications and help people live longer,” says Dr. Lewis Hsu, chief medical officer of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America.
Last week, Curtis at Montefiore Medical Center received a five-year grant from the NIH to investigate the efficacy and safety of a drug called dronabinol, a THC-containing pill normally for nausea and vomiting, to see if it could treat chronic pain in adults living with sickle cell disease.
This grant will also allow them to determine if dronabinol can reduce inflammation, which Curtis said “is known to play an important role in sickle disease.”
Sickle cell disease is the most common inherited condition in the world, affecting 8 to 12 million people. It mainly affects families who originate from parts of the globe where malaria is common.
Sickle cell disease affects these populations because having the sickle cell trait protects individuals from serious consequences of malaria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the United States, it’s considered a rare disease affecting about 100,000 Americans, says the CDC. In addition, the government agency reports that sickle cell disease occurs in about 1 in every 365 Black or African-American births and 1 out of every 16,300 Hispanic births.
Through national newborn screening guidelines implemented in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, babies are tested for sickle cell disease. About 2,000 babies are born with the disease each year in America, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The only cure for sickle cell disease is a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. This is a hospital based-procedure that takes healthy stem cells from a donor and puts them into someone’s bone marrow, allowing the person to make new healthy cells.
According to the NIH, the treatment has been successful in about 85 out of 100 children. However, it is a risky procedure that not a lot of people can tolerate.
Liberia now joins the likes of USA where, since 2006, all newborns are screened for sickle cell at birth.