Govt Considers Mass Infant Screening Of Sickle Cell

1697 Views Kampala, Uganda

In short
The initiative under the Ministry of Health is already having mass neonatal screening free of cost in most districts.

Every child born in the country could soon be tested for sickle Cell Disease (SCD) as part of government's newborn screening programme.

The initiative under Ministry of Health's Sickle Cell (SCD) Programme is already having mass neonatal screening in most districts.
 
Charles Kiyaga, the National Sickle Cell Coordinator at the Ministry of Health says the intervention will act as a gateway to providing care to children. The government hopes that, through the infant screening, it can obtain data for future surveillance and possibly prevention.  

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The screening of infants of sickle cell can now only be done in twenty high burden districts where samples can be picked. Actual screening of the samples takes place at Uganda National Health Laboratory Services headquarters in Kampala.
 
At present, mass screening of neonates of sickle cell disease is not performed at any government facility. The failure to screen children at birth has come with huge costs to parents because they realize that the child has sickle cell months or years after birth.
 
In America and Europe, new born screening programmes are part of the general screening tests that a child goes through at birth.   
 
In newborn screening programmes, blood from a heel prick is collected in "spots" or dry blood samples on a special paper.

The hemoglobin from this blood is then analyzed in special labs at Uganda National Health Services Laboratory. Picking of samples at district or region-based laboratories is free of charge.

Sickle cell disease contributes substantially to mortality in children younger than five years in sub-Saharan Africa. In Uganda, 20,000 babies per year are thought to be born with sickle cell disease.
 
The results from the districts where the screening is done according to Kiyaga  are now giving a true picture of the burden of sickle cell.

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If a baby is found to have SCD, health providers form a special follow-up newborn screening group contact the family directly to make sure that the parents know the results.

Kiyaga says newborn screening programmes also find out whether the baby has an abnormal hemoglobin trait. If so, parents are informed, and counseling is offered.

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When a child has sickle cell trait or Sickle Cell Disease, a future sibling, or the child's own future child, may be at risk.

The national average of sickle cell disease is 13.3 percent meaning one out of seven people has got a sickle cell gene. Despite the high prevalence in the country, sickle cell disease has not received sufficient attention in Uganda.

Sickle Cell Disease being a genetic disease is not curable. The best available option is to prevent it by screening children and adults.

For years Finance and Health ministries have created a special budget towards the disease. Few donors according to Kiyaga are funding the screening exercise and he fears that it could stall when donor money ends.