Sickle cell disease — Africa’s need for new innovative treatment strategies
Written by Morayo
As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19, the weight of the pandemic is felt even more severely for those with underlying health conditions. Patients with pre-existing health conditions such as sickle cell disease (SCD) have been required to shield due to their increased vulnerability to the current virus. In African countries, the importance of protection for this vulnerable group cannot be stressed enough, as the healthcare system was already overstretched. SCD patients have always encountered difficulties seeking appropriate treatment and have been poorly managed in various African countries. Given the severity of symptoms, reduction in quality of life and low life expectancy, there is a huge demand for new strategies and treatments to improve the lives of those affected by sickle cell.
Sickle Cell Disease
Sickle cell disease is a blood condition highly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa caused by a genetic mutation (1). Due to a genetic change on the HBB gene, red blood cells take on an abnormal form, which results in painful crisis episodes, anaemia, increased susceptibility to infections and high mortality rates. It is the most common life-threatening condition among those of African descent, however, it is also prevalent in India, the Mediterranean as well as the Middle East (2,3). Approximately 300,000–400,000 babies with sickle cell are born each year, of which nearly 75% are born in Africa. Nigeria has the highest prevalence with 25–35% of global SCD births (3,4). Although the figures present a high incidence, the majority of African countries have still not implemented optimised treatments or efficient public health facilities that can accommodate sickle cell patients. As a result, childhood mortality rates are still significantly high (5). According to estimates done in studies, up to 90% of SCD patients in Africa will not reach 18 years old (6). Therefore, the establishment of innovative healthcare programmes that seek to facilitate the disease management of SCD is vital and needs to be incorporated into Africa’s healthcare system.