By ZIllah Waminaje
In Africa, 50% to 90% of children who have sickle cell die before their fifth birthday1. To improve their chances of survival, health systems must integrate Newborn Screening (NBS) for Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) with comprehensive treatment and management plans.
For almost five decades, newborn screening for SCD has been conducted using conventional procedures such as electrophoretic techniques, isoelectric focusing (IEF), high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and DNA analysis, which require specialized laboratories with stable electricity, long sample processing times, expensive equipment and reagents, and highly skilled personnel. These methods, while ideal and feasible for developed countries, are inappropriate for low-resource settings like sub-Saharan Africa where 70% of SCD sufferers reside.
Sickle SCAN is an innovative, cost-effective point-of-care (POC) device that has been developed by Biomedics Inc. to address the challenges of SCD diagnostics in low-resource settings. It is a simple rapid point-of-care test kit that can detect the presence of Hemoglobin A, S, and C and yield results within 5 minutes using blood from a heel/ finger prick or vein. In addition to newborn screening, the Sickle SCAN device can be used for premarital/preconception genetic counseling, blood donor screening, and general screening.
Several features make the Sickle SCAN ideal for low-resource settings and large-scale mass screening programs. The first is that it does not require specialized technical knowledge to administer or read the test results. Anyone can be trained to use the device. The device does not require any special equipment or electricity and thus, eliminates the time, resources and logistics needed to transport samples to a laboratory. Finally, the short result turnaround time allows for the prompt identification of SC-positive babies so that early treatment can commence and survival rates can improve.
Since December 2018, eHealth Africa has partnered with Sickle Cell Well Africa Foundation (SCWAF), Pro-Health International and the Presidential Committee on the North- East Initiative (PCNI) to hold Sickle Cell awareness and testing outreaches in Adamawa, Bauchi, and Gombe states. Over 1000 people in all three states were screened using Sickle SCAN rapid diagnostic test kits. Patients who tested positive for sickle cell disease were immediately given routine medication and referred to sickle cell clinics.
Since healthcare in many African countries is community-based, rapid POC test kits like the Sickle SCAN can be easily integrated into existing health programs like routine immunization at primary health care centers or health insurance schemes to facilitate universal screening and ensure sustainability. This will ensure that relevant data on SCD births, morbidity and mortality rates and long term outcomes are captured.
eHealth Africa continues to work with partners to address health inequalities by ensuring equal access to quality and effective diagnostic tools to achieve universal health coverage.