Hydroxyurea Drug: FG reiterates commitment to tackle sickle cell disease

The Federal Government reiterated on Tuesday its commitment to tackle sickle cell disease (SCD) and other non-communicable diseases through several policies and strategic action plans.

The Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof. Ali Pate, said this at the inauguration of the ‘Managing sickle cell disease through increased adoption of hydroxyurea in Nigeria (ACCELERATE)” project in Abuja.

Pate, represented by Dr. Nse Akpan, Director, ProHealth Service, Federal Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, said the project was geared towards assessing the level of utilisation of the Hydroxyurea drug among healthcare providers.

“Hydroxyurea is an innovative drug that has been used in developed countries to prevent sickle cell morbidity and mortality and has proven to be a game changer in the management and control of SCD.

“Studies have shown that hydroxyurea helps to reduce the frequency of acute chest syndrome (pneumonia) in children and adults.

“It also helps to reduce the frequency and number of painful crises and prevent the occurrence of strokes.

“It reduces the need for blood transfusions, the number of visits to the hospital, and hospital admissions, and prevents damage to vital organs such as the spleen, kidneys, lungs, and brain,” he said.

Pate said that the drug was now produced in the country by Bond Chemical Industries Limited, an indigenous pharmaceutical company based in Lagos State.

He said that the ministry, through this indigenous company, had made donations of hydroxyurea to the Sickle Centre of Excellence in the six geopolitical zones.

Pate also said that the Centre of Excellence for Sickle Cell Disease Research &Training (CESRTA) at UniAbuja was included, and the feedback was worthy of note.

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He said the issue of myth and poor utilisation of hydroxyurea among health providers was still evident.

According to him, ACCELERATE through this programme will help to demystify some of the myths associated with drug use for effective management of SCD in Nigeria.

“It is our earnest belief that the ACCELERATE programme will achieve its set goals and target with the unwavering support of the Federal Government towards improving the health and wellbeing of people living with SCD.

The Vice Chancellor, University of Abuja (UniAbuja), Prof. Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, said the five-year grant would enable CESRTA to do more in the fight against the disease.

Na’Allah said that with the effort being put into research work by the center, he prayed that one day there would be a permanent cure for the disease.

Prof. Obiageli Nnodu, Director, CESRTA, said Nigeria had the highest prevalence of SCD in the world, with an estimated 4.4 million of its population.

Nnodu said that research findings over the years showed that the majority of people in sub-Saharan Africa were not receiving evidence-based health services such as newborn screening.

She said there was also no health education, prophylaxis for infection, transcranial Doppler (TCD) screening, hydroxyurea therapy (HUT), or blood transfusions when required.

According to her, HUT is recognised in national and international guidelines as a standard of care for patients with SCD, with over 25 years of clinical evidence regarding the efficacy and safety of hydroxyurea for the management of SCD.

She said the project would conduct the first large-scale implementation research study to assess the adoption of hydroxyurea in Nigeria using clinical sites.

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Nnodu, however, said the primary objective of the programme was to evaluate the level of hydroxyurea adoption among healthcare providers using the task-sharing intervention.

She said Nigeria had a new-born screening project that was supported by the American Society of Hematology.

Ndodu said that it was a consortium for new-born screening in seven countries, of which Nigeria was one.

The director said the new-born screening consortium in Nigeria was in FCT and Kaduna State, adding that FCT had screening centres in 24 primary health centers.

“We have screened over 20,000 babies; we have identified 220 babies, and just about half of these babies are in care; others are in the bush.

“Only 13 percent of SCD patients are on hydroxyurea, which is a disease-modifying treatment, and 54 percent are taking blood, which is not too safe.

“More babies with SCD survive when they are identified at birth than those identified in early childhood.

“When babies are identified through new-born screening, they should be enrolled in comprehensive care for proper follow-up.

“The current standard requires that these babies be offered hydroxyurea treatment from nine months on and not wait until they fall ill,” she said.

Ndodu, who said the project would help to provide treatment for 900 patients for five years, added that there was a need for constant awareness in order to reduce the prevalence of SCD in Nigeria.

Dr. Emmanuel Peprah, University of New York, co-project investigator, said that hydroxyurea was safe for use in Africa, adding that Nigeria was the only country in Africa that produced its own hydroxyurea.

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Peprah said that by the end of this five-year research project, they hope to have administered hydroxyurea to over 30 percent of patients with SCD.

He said the drug was efficient for patients not only in Nigeria but in sub-Saharan Africa.

Miss Joanna Kelvin, a sickle cell warrior and volunteer, said she had been on the drug and it had been very effective.

She called on the global community to offer a permanent cure for the disease that always tries to define their lives as humans. (NAN)

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