19 June 2017

Tanzania: Tackling Sickle Cell Disease


Lack of sickle cell equipment for early detection of sickle cell disease (SCD) in children is citied to be one of the contributing factor that leads to high number of deaths of sickle cell children in Tanzania.

Sickle cell disease is a group of disorders that affects haemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to cells throughout the body

The government in partnership with Medomix Business Development early this year launched the facility to diagnose sickle cell disease. The new technology does not require electricity, it could be used in remote area and it does not require an expert personnel to interpret the results. It has a 99 per cent of specificity and sensitivity.

Tanzania Sickle Cell Disease Alliance Director General, Dr Deogratius Soka, told Your Health that though the government launched a Rapid Kit Test (Sickle Scan), which helps to give results and detect the disease in three to five minutes especially to new born babies was only accessed in urban areas.

"We expected to see the Rapid Kit Test to be available in hospitals countrywide, unfortunately, since the launch in January, the kits are only found in Dar es Salaam hospitals," he said.

Tanzanian children are not routinely screened for SCD or SCT (Sicke Cell Trait) because of the high cost and limited availability of the complicated central laboratory techniques typically required. As a result, few Tanzanians receive treatment for SCD or genetic counseling for those who are carriers of the trait.

Dr Soka said that interventions such as newborn screening and enrolment into comprehensive care programmes with prompt diagnosis and treatment of complications and prevention of infections by vaccination and oral penicillin has had a remarkable impact on improving survival in SCD patients in Europe compared to Africa.

"Tanzania has one of the highest annual births of Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) affected individuals in the world, estimated to be between 8,000 to 11,000 births a year," he said.

In view of this, he explained that without interventions, up to 90 per cent of affected children under five are predicted not to survive beyond childhood in Tanzania including other African countries.

According to Dr Soka, unfortunately the introduction of interventions such Rapid Kit Test has been hampered by lack of facilities, therefore joined effort to distribution of sickle cell kit was important.

Deputy Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children Dr Hamis Kigwangalla said that the sickle scan device has come at the right time, especially looking into the fact that non-communicable diseases has been increasing worldwide especially in developing countries.


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