Africa To Get A 10-Minute Sickle Cell Detector To Save Newborns
A 10-minute quick point-of-care tool has been invented by Centre of Excellence for Sickle Cell Disease Research and Training at the University of Abuja, Nigeria to immediately screen newborn babies for sickle cell disease in Africa for two dollars.
Sickle cell disease as it is popularly known is also called Sickle Cell Anemia. It is an inherited red blood cell disorder which affects over 12 million people mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, India, Saudi Arabia and Mediterranean countries. It is known to be one of the major factors responsible for child mortality.
According to research, about 50 to 80 per cent born with the disorder die before the age five hence gained the nickname, the silent baby killer. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that about 300,000 babies die because of the disorder with over 200,000 death cases recorded in Africa.
On the brighter side, the Director for the Centre, Professor Obiageli Nnodu has indicated that these can be minimized by integrating the 10-minute quick point-of-care tool into the existing primary healthcare immunization programs to screen infants at an affordable price. The Centre assures of feasibility and it can be rapidly implemented with limited resources.
Professor Obiageli Nnodu, Director for the Centre of Excellence for Sickle
Cell Disease Research and Training at the University of Abuja, Nigeria
Speaking on behalf of the Centre, Professor Nnodu suggests that most of these deaths caused by sickle cell disorder is caused by the inability to detect the disorder immediately so infants are passed through the general protocol for immunization.
She said, “most of these deaths are preventable by starting the children early on folic acid, immunization, treatment of malaria and administering oral penicillin. But we will not know which child requires special attention if we are not testing every newborn.”
For this purpose, the Centre has developed this affordable kit to realistically screen every newborn immediately to replace Africa’s healthcare systems that largely rely on referral system for newborn screening. These systems require that a baby’s sample is collected on a filter paper which is dispatched to a central laboratory for testing. This procedure could take several weeks to get the result.
To combat this long procedure, the rapid test kit will be deployed at immunization clinics, a place where most newborns visit after birth. An example is the HemoTypeSC from Silver Lake Research, a diagnostic firm based in southern California.
According to the Centre, these have been registered in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. It further explained that the test utilizes specific and sensitive monoclonal antibodies that are embedded on a test strip to detect hemoglobins A, S and C.
The Vice President at a diagnostic company, Erik Serrao reiterated that newborn screening has been strongly advocated for.
“Lab tests are sub-optimal for large-scale newborn screening compared with a point-of-care tests and we are already having conversations with governments and agencies that have been advocating for newborn screening,” he said.
However, Professor Nnodu suggests that the end is not in sight when it comes to SCD in spite of the recent advancements recorded in sickle cell disease. This she says is as a result of the knowledge gap that still exists.
“We still have unanswered questions including what makes one child to have a clinical course that is different from that of another child within the same family,” she lamented.