Kenya’s first-ever sickle cell disease control guidelines deployed to check loss of lives

The Ministry of Health and partners have launched the first-ever sickle cell disease guidelines in a move aimed at managing the blood disease in Kenya.

The Sickle Cell Disease Guidelines is aimed at standardizing the healthcare given to Persons Living with Sickle cell disease (PLWSCD).

It is estimated that 6,000 children are born annually with the inherited blood condition where red blood cells contort into a sickle shape.

The new guidelines are a joint effort from the ministry, Sickle Cell Federation of Kenya with support from Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis.

And about 240,000 children in Africa, are born each year with the disease. Sadly, between 50 and 80 per cent of these children die before marking their fifth birthday.

Moreso, the recurrent paid and complications caused by the disease can interfere with many aspects of the patient’s life including education, psychosocial development among others.

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Dr Andrew Mulwa, the Acting Director at the Directorate of Medical Services-Preventive and Promotive Health noted that the clinical guidelines “marks a new dawn in care as management of sickle cell has been erratic with no uniformity”.

Dr Mulwa noted that the management of the disease for long has been dependent on individual assessment of health workers across the country.

It will also ensure the standardization of care offered to PLWSCD at all health care levels and at the same time eliminate inappropriate practices.

“I urge all stakeholders to embrace these guidelines to ensure that we reduce the mortality rate. The Ministry of Health will continue working with partners in ensuring provision of medicines and diagnostic solutions on sustaining lives of the Persons Living with Sickle Cell Disease (PLWSCD),” said Dr Mulwa during the launch in Nairobi.

SCD is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders. Healthy red blood cells are round, and they move through small blood vessels to carry oxygen to all parts of the body.

In someone who has SCD, the red blood cells become hard and sticky and look like a C-shaped farm tool called a “sickle”. The sickle cells die early, which causes a constant shortage of red blood cells, the carries of oxygen and nourishment to body tissues.

Dr Fredrick Okinyi, Chairman Sickle Cell Federation of Kenya while commending the ministry on the milestone termed the document as “an achievement and a step in the right direction.”

Dr Okinyi added that the federation was now keen on seeing more interventions from the ministry of Health as far as improvement of health care for sickle cell patients across the country is concerned.

“We are also asking government to include medicines used for the management of sickle cell such as drug hydroxyurea on list of essential medicines under the NHIF cover.” Dr Okinyi added.

Currently, this drug can only be accessed by those that are able to pay. Each pill goes for about Kes 50 and some patients depending on their level of crisis requires up to three drugs each day.

Children with sickle cell disease are ten times more likely to die than those not living with the hereditary condition.

On his part, Anthony Mwangi, Cluster Head Novartis, East Africa said, “Novartis is committed towards increasing patient access and improving the lives of patients and such initiatives play a key role in bringing to light the interventions needed to control and manage Sickle Cell disease but not only putting emphasis on early diagnosis but also looking at countrywide access to affordable medicines.”

In addition to the guidelines, Novartis is partnering with the ministry in creating awareness to promote early diagnosis through screening.

Besides dissemination of the national sickle cell guidelines, the government has future plans of opening satellite sickle cell clinics in hospitals and health centers across the country.

Other partners who played a key role in developing the guidelines included, Non-communicable Diseases Alliance Kenya (NCDAK), The Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH), Kenya Haemophilia Association (KHA) and Kenya Paediatric Research Consortium (KEPRECON).

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