Ghana is set to scale-up the usage of hydroxyurea, a generic drug for the treatment of Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) in all health facilities to reduce the cost of its medications and the burden of treatment on patients and families.
This followed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Ghana and Novartis, an international pharmaceutical company, at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January this year to improve the diagnosis and treatment of persons with the disease in Ghana
Presently, the first consignment of 5, 600 doses, have been brought into the country and would be distributed in all public health facilities across the country to be sold to patients at a reduced price.
Hydroxyurea is a commonly used medicine for patients with sickle cell diseases in developed countries, developed by Novartis and approved for use in adults and children with SCD.
Dr Anthony Nsiah- Asare, Director-General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) said at a press briefing in Accra on Wednesday that MoU was a public-private partnership between Novartis, the Ministry of Health, the GHS and the Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana.
It is expected to within the next five years, improve and extend the lives of people with the disease through a comprehensive approach to screen, diagnosis, treat and manage the disease, train and educate as well as elevate clinical research and scientific capabilities.
He said with the MoU, partners plan to collaborate on field testing and guidelines for management of sickle cell diseases, through the establishment of centres of excellence for SCD in the 16 regional capitals.
This, he said, would be followed by the expansion of new-born screening for SCD, which was presently done in some districts in Kumasi alone.
“The partners focused on four main areas, thus; treatment of the disease, which seeks to seeks to make hydroxyurea available and accessible in Ghana, diagnosis, with aims to make at least one new born screening site available in each region, research and advocacy,” he added.
Dr Nsiah-Asare said GHS will under the MoU, prioritise sickle cell disease as an unmet medical need in Ghana’s health agenda and facilitate the coordination amongst the various government entities.
He noted that the partners were working together for the inclusion of the hydroxyurea medicine and associated laboratory testing on the National Health Insurance Scheme
Mr Patrice Natchaba, Head of Global Health and Corporate Responsibilities at Novartis, explained that the partnership was to ensure that no child or family suffering from sickle cell disease was left behind.
He encouraged families to have their children tested for the sickle cell gene as early diagnosis was the surest way to reduce the disease burden.
Hydroxyurea, according to him, makes the red blood cells healthier when taken on daily basis.
Mr Natchaba said Nortavis was committed to its part of the partnership and will by September this year, bring in another 40,000 dose of the medicine.
Sickle Cell Disease is a hereditary and life-threatening condition that causes on-going damage to red blood cells, blood vessels and organs.
It affects the shape of red blood cells and can make blood cells and Bessel sticker than usual.
In Ghana, it is estimated that about 15000 births are affected by sickle cell diseases every year, while the Korle- Bu Teaching Hospital diagnoses and treats about 1,000 of them with hydroxyurea every year.