NOVARTIS INTRODUCES DRUG THAT REDUCES PAINFUL EPISODES AMONG SICKLE CELL PATIENTS IN UGANDA, SOROTI REGIONAL REFERAL HOSPITAL SELECTED AS CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE

By Goodluck Musinguzi

A dream come true for thousands of patients who have suffered with a poor quality of life due to lack of a comprehensive list of medicines to use at different stage of the disease.

Hon Jane Ruth Aceng, Minister of Health announced improved sickle cell care in Uganda after many years of supportive care whereby they are given pain killers to ease pain, antibiotics for infections and anti-malarial drugs for malaria.

Hon Aceng said Hydroxyurea is the new sickle cell drug which is also used in cancer treatment and has been added on the list of essential medicines indicated for patients living with sickle cell.

“Studies have shown hydroxyurea drug reduces painful episodes, suffering and improves quality of life in sickle cell patients. Through this partnership we shall work mutually to support training of health workers to care for sickle cell patients, reduce the cost of medicines and increase availability”, said Dr Jane Ruth Aceng

Soroti Regional Referral Hospital has been selected as a center of excellence to provide sickle cell disease treatment thanks to the partnership between Ministry of Health and Novartis.

Alfred Wabulembo, the Country Representative for Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical company that got the drug registered among those to treat sickle cell disease said they struck a deal with the Ministry to avail the drug at a subsidized fee and also print treatment guidelines for all health facilities across the country.

Dr Robert Opoka, a paediatrician and senior lecturer at Makerere University said the guidelines mark a new dawn in care as treatment for sickle cell has been erratic with no uniformity but rather depending on individual assessment of health workers.

Dr Gerald Mutungi, the Acting Commissioner for Non-Communicable Diseases at the Ministry of Health says they have a comprehensive document that lists what medicines health workers can use in what intervals in addition to at what point one should refer the patient to a higher facility.

In addition to the guidelines, the Ministry of Health Mutungi revealed it is in final stages of putting fairly new sickle cell drug hydroxyurea which is also used in cancer treatment on the list of essential medicines indicated for patients living with sickle cell.

Alfred Wabulembo, the Country Representative for Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical company that got the drug registered among those to treat sickle cell disease said they struck a deal with the Ministry to avail the drug at a subsidized fee and also print treatment guidelines for all health facilities across the country.

With the drugs, he said their partnership with the Ministry will involve diagnosis to ensure that more people test to know their status in addition to creating awareness in communities to embrace screening interventions.

In Uganda, it is estimated that about 20,000 babies are born with sickle cell every year but 80 percent of them never live to see their 5th birthday. Also, about 11,000 children under 5 years die as a result of the sickle cell every year. This translates to between 30 babies dying every day as a result of the disease.

This statistic experts say can only be reversed if carriers of the disease don’t marry each other something they will establish with screening. Treatments like hydroxyurea will only offer a better standard of living for a sickler but not complete cure.

Sickle cell anemia is a hereditary incurable defect confined to red blood cells. The basic defect is in the structure of hemoglobin molecule of the red blood cells which acquire sickle like shape in oxygen deficient environment. Due to this effect there is destruction of the cells which could even lead to the death of patients. This disease is now prominent in Teso Sub-Region in Uganda

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