#WorldSickleCellDay

Innovations in Newborn Sickle Cell Screening

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.

Screening with Sickle SCAN Device

Screening with Sickle SCAN Device

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.

Sickle SCAN

Sickle SCAN

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.

Sickle Cell Outreach in Hong LGA, Adamawa

Sickle Cell Outreach in Hong LGA, Adamawa

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.

Sickle Cell Awareness and Testing Outreach in Toro LGA, Bauchi

Sickle Cell Awareness and Testing Outreach in Toro LGA, Bauchi

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.

World Sickle Cell Day: 6 facts you need to Know

By Emerald Awa- Agwu

Over 300,000 children worldwide are born with the Sickle Cell Disease (SCD), a genetic abnormality of the red blood cells in which they take a crescent or “sickle”- shaped appearance. Over half of these children die before the age of five.

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With over 300,000 babies born with the sickle cell disease every year, Nigeria has the highest burden of Sickle cell disorders in the world. The 19th of June every year is set aside to commemorate the World Sickle Cell Day. This year, we explore 6 facts you need to know about Sickle Cell Disease.

  1. Although sickle cell can affect people all around the world, the risk is higher in Africans or people of African descent.

  2. Sickle Cell Disease is not contagious or infectious.

  3. People who have the sickle cell disease may develop various complications such as anaemia, stroke, tissue, organ and bone damage as well as pain due to the inability of the sickle-shaped red blood cells to carry oxygen normally and to cause blockage of blood vessels.

  4. People with the genotype AS, are carriers of the Sickle Cell Trait (SCT) but do not suffer any symptoms of Sickle Cell Disease. They can however pass it on to their children.

  5. There is no cure for SCD yet. Although, some success has been recorded with bone marrow transplants.

  6. A person with SCD can live a long and active life as long as they undergo regular check-ups with a doctor, take their medications regularly, prevent infections through hygienic practices such as handwashing and drink lots of water.

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Currently, eHealth Africa is partnering with the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and the International Foundation Against Infectious diseases in Nigeria (IFAIN) to implement a clinical trial of the HemeChip, a device that can detect the sickle cell gene in babies as young as 6 weeks old using little to no electricity. The HemeChip is a component of SMART (Sickle and Malaria Accurate Remote Testing), a solution that recently won eHA and its partners, Case Western Reserve University, Hemex Health and the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), the Vodafone Wireless Initiative Project prize. SMART is designed to diagnose, track and monitor sickle cell disease and malaria in low resource settings.

This World Sickle Cell Day, eHealth Africa encourages everyone to get screened. Discovering one’s genotype is the first step in reducing the incidence of Sickle Cell Disease and preventing any more deaths and complications from occurring.