African health ministers have launched a campaign to raise awareness, and strengthen prevention and care of sickle cell disease, one of the most common diseases in the region receiving inadequate care.
The campaign, launched at a side event during the World Health Organisation (WHO) 72nd Regional Committee for Africa, the region’s flagship health meeting, is to strengthen the political will and commitment, as well as the financing resources for the prevention and control of sickle cell disease throughout the region.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, declared that most African countries do not have the resources to provide comprehensive care for people with sickle cell disease, despite the availability of proven cost-effective interventions for prevention, and early diagnosis and treatment of this condition.
According to him, “We need to bring attention to this disease and help improve the quality of life for those who suffer from it. We can no longer ignore the significant burden caused by sickle cell disease.
“We must do more to improve access to treatment and care, including newborn screening and counselling, by ensuring programmes are decentralised and integrated with services delivered to communities and at the primary care level of the community.”
Dr Moeti highlighted the need for increased investment and stronger collaboration and partnerships to help stem the tide of rising cases of sickle cell disease in Africa.
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More than 66% of the 120 million people affected by sickle cell disease worldwide live in Africa. Approximately 1,000 children are born with the disease every day in Africa, making it the most prevalent genetically acquired disease in the region.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that shortens the survival of red blood cells and causes anaemia, often called sickle cell anaemia.
Poor blood oxygen levels and blood vessel blockages in people with sickle cell disease can cause extreme pain in the back, chest, hands, and feet, as well as serious bacterial infections. More than half of these children will die before their fifth birthday, usually from infection or severe anaemia.
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In the Africa region, there were 38,403 deaths from sickle cell disease in 2019, a 26% increase from 2000. The burden of sickle cell disease stems from underinvestment in efforts to combat the disease.
Many public health facilities in the region lack sickle cell disease prevention, early detection, and care services. Inadequate staffing and lack of services at lower-level health facilities also hamper effective disease response.
Due to the absence of newborn screening and surveillance programmes throughout the region, there is a lack of accurate and reliable data on the disease.
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Additionally, data collection for sickle cell disease is not included in most national population surveys. These data gaps have had a negative impact on the prioritization and allocation of resources for the disease.