Ghana has become the first nation in sub-Saharan Africa to provide quality healthcare for sickle cell patients following the introduction of Hydroxyrea 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 would soon be made 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 this year.
Speaking at a press conference in Accra on Wednesday to provide details on the partnership, Director General of the Ghana Health Service, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare said, Ghana has taken the lead in Africa with the provision of the drug which would prevent the crisis that patients experience.
“We are happy Ghana is the first country where sickle cell disease treatment would be a priority,” he stated.
The MoU he said, would focus on treatment, diagnosis, research and advocacy to ensure that, the drug is accessible to all across the country.
He explained that, globally, more than 400,000 babies are born with sickle cell diseases annually with 80 percent of the number in sub-Saharan Africa.
“It is estimated that approximately 1000 children in Africa are born with the disease every day and more than half will die before they reach five. Ghana estimates 15,000 births affected by sickle cell disease every year,” he stated.
He added that, sickle cell disease is recognised by the World Health Assembly as a public health priority and is neglected health problem in sub-Saharan Africa.
With the step taken by Ghana to provide the drugs to health centers across the country, he said, death that is caused by the disease would become a thing of the past.
“Newly born children would be screened and those with sickle cell diseases would be monitored and provided the drug in order to live,” he stated.
He added that, they are in talks with government to ensure that the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) covers the medicine so that it could be available to all.
Group Head, Global Health and Corporate Responsibility at Novartis, Patrice T. Matchaba disclosed that, the first consignment of the drug which is about 56,000 doses have arrived in the country, ready for distribution at the health centres.
Health practitioners he said are currently undergoing training to ensure that, they are able to administer the drugs effectively.
“When all the necessary training and other processes have been completed, the drugs would be made available. No child, no family and no country should be left out of this treatment,” he added.
He said, a successful distribution and treatment in Ghana would be a success for the rest of Africa as it would be extended to cover the rest of the continent.
President of the Sickle Cell Foundation, Prof. Kwaku Ohene-Frempong said, countries like the United States and Jamaica have more than 80 per cent of sickle cell children survive and Ghana could also achieve that feat with the introduction of the drug.
Screening newly born babies he said would be intensified in the country to ensure that those with the disease receive the right attention.
BY MICHAEL D. ABAYATEYE