Ghana becomes 1st in Africa to offer standard care for sickle cell patients

Government has officially announced the availability of hydroxyurea for the treatment of people with sickle cell disease (SCD) in the country.

The announcement comes in the wake of a Public-Private Partnership agreement entered into between the government and Novatis, a Swiss-based international pharmaceutical company.

As part of the partnership, the two are to ensure that the drug was constantly available to be administered for all persons suffering from the SCD in the country, especially children between ages one and 10.

Furthermore, the partners are to create a holistic approach to help tackle the disease, in addition to screening and diagnosis, treatment and disease management, and elevating basic and clinical research and scientific capabilities.

At a ceremony in Accra to officially launch the partnership on Wednesday, the Vice President, Alhaji Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, said the new partnership was the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa to improve the diagnosis and treatment of people living with the disease.

He said SCD was a major public health disease in the country, and hoped that the new partnership would help improve the diagnosis and accelerate treatment for people living with the disease.

Dr Bawumia said the partnership followed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in January between the Ministry of Health Ghana, the Ghana Health Service, the Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana and Novartis.

He said apart from the hydroxyurea, which had proven to be the most effective way of treating the disease, the partnership was also to create holistic approach to help manage the disease in the country.

“Ghana is the first African country to commit to offering the global standard of care for their people with SCD. I am proud of this bold partnership, and it is my hope that, through this collaboration, we will help ease the pain and improve the lives of people living with SCD in our country,” he emphasised.

The Vice President said the government was committed to put SCD among the priorities on the health agenda of the country, and to take the necessary steps to make treatment broadly available through the National Health Insurance Scheme.

Dr Bawumia said this should bring the much needed relief to families who struggled to cover the cost of care for their loved ones, stressing that, “Ghana is on course to becoming the first country in Africa to change the story of sickle cell disease for our people from pain, stigma, and despair to comfort, hope, and achievement.”

According to him, more than 15,000 children were born with sickle cell on annual basis and this affected their growth and development, thus it was important that measures were taken to ease the burden of the disease in the country.

On his part, the Chief Executive of Novartis, Dr Vas Narasimhan, said his organisation, which is a global player in the pharmaceutical industry, had a strong focus on SCD, adding that “a disease that we all know has a tremendous physical and emotional toll on patients”.

He said the partnership had put forward an inspiring vision for what could be made possible for SCD patients in Ghana, adding that Ghana had become the first African country to commit to offering the global standard of care for people with SCD.

“I want to recognise the government, the Ministry of Health, the Ghana Health Service, the Food and Drugs Authority and the Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana for the role they played in making the partnership possible,” he said.

Dr Narasimhan said beyond working to ensure broad access to hydroxyurea, Norvatis was aiming to bring the next wave of medical innovation to Ghana as well, emphasising that, “We plan to implement two clinical trials for our next generation treatment for sickle cell disease in Ghana and Kenya.”

“Excluding South Africa, this would be the first time ever that a biologic therapy for a non-communicable disease would enter multicentre clinical trials in Sub-Sarahan Africa,” he added.

By Cliff Ekuful

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