By Gifty Arthur
There is finally hope for Sickle Cell patients in Ghana who hitherto have had to suffer the pain of living with the disease,sometimes leading to avoidable deaths, simply because of lack of effective drugs to manage the disease.
Through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) between Ghana through the Ministry of Health and a leading global medicines company based in Switzerland, Novartis,there is hope for these patients, following the launch of the agreement last Wednesday in Accra.
It is the first PPPon the disease in Africa, making Ghana, the firstcountry to commit to offering a high standard of care for its people with sickle cell disease.
The partnership, follows a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed during this year’s 2019 edition of the World Economic Forum in January in Davos, Switzerland.
Under the partnership, NOVARTIS, will provide through the Ministry of Health Hydroxyurea, already approved by the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), to sickle cell patients.
The drug will initially be provided free of charge to patients and subsequently be subsidized and provided by the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).
Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is a hereditary and life-threatening condition that causes ongoing damage to red blood cells, blood vessels, and organs. The disease affects the hemoglobin in red blood cells making the cells misshapen, stiff, sticky, and also damaging to blood vessels.
It is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a public health priority and a neglected health problem in sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 80percent of individuals with SCD globally are born in sub-Saharan Africa, and there is evidence to suggest that more than half of affected individuals may die before the age of five due to preventable complications.
Approximately 80percent of individuals with SCD globally are born in sub-Saharan Africa, and more than half of affected individuals die before the age of five due to preventable complications. In Ghana, it is estimated that 15,000 babies are born with sickle cell disease every year.
As part of the Partnership with Novartis, Centers of Excellence are going to be establishedin all regions except those that already have,to promote this course.
At a programme to launch the programme, Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, who expressed concern about the suffering of Sickle Cell patients said government was greatly excited with the launch and the introduction of the drug hydroxyura developed to ease the pain and improve the lives of people with sickle cell disease in Ghana.
“Like many of our people, the President and I share great concern about sickle cell disease. We share the concern of the burden that the disease places on their health and lives of those who live with it. We care about the effects it has on their families and on society as a whole.
“The President and I are happy to see the concerted efforts that are being made to ease the pain and improve the lives of people with the disease in our country. Indeed, I am delighted to be here today to bear witness to those efforts and to support the promise of better days for our people who live with this difficult disease.”
Dr. Bawumia, who described the initiative as “game changer’ and “breakthrough” was commended Novartis and it Chief Executive for the partnership and their contribution towards making it a reality.
He said “My thanks to Dr. Vas Narisamhan and his team at Novartis as well as Professor Ohene Frimpong, President of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana for working so hard on this project.
“With the seeds being sown by the Ghana-Novartis partnership, support from our National Health Insurance Scheme for Newborn screening, hydroxyurea, and new treatments on the horizon, Ghana would become the first country in Africa to change the story of sickle cell disease for our people from pain, stigma, and despair to comfort, hope, and achievement.
“Our goal collectively is to re-imagine what our nation could look like and aspire to where children attend school without being singled out; where young adults can be employed without fear of their condition; and marriages continue to be the bedrock of our civil society.
On his part, Novartis CEO, Dr. Vas Narisamhan his outfit was happy to partner government of Ghana and was committed to making their medicines available and accessible.
“Novartis has a long-term commitment to ensuring that our medicines, and healthcare in general, are accessible to as many patients as possible.
Our hope is that, we’ll continue to reimagine the way this disease is treated, in order to offer better medicines and improved care to sickle cell patients in Africa and around the world. I am proud that Novartis is committed to addressing this challenge.”
The partnership aims at improving the diagnosis and treatment of people with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) in Ghana. Partners are to work together to create a holistic approach to help tackle the disease including screening and diagnosis, treatment and disease management, and elevating basic and clinical research and scientific capabilities.
Specifically, partners plan to collaborate on the field testing and training of national SCD treatment guidelines, the establishment of cross-regional centres of excellence and the implementation of newborn screening at these centres.
Under the partnership, NOVARTIS will provide some six million Hydroxyurea to the Ministry to be distributed to these patients free of charge after which it will be subsidized and provided by the National Health Insurance Scheme.
At a press briefing ahead of the launch, out-going Director General of the Ghana Heath Service (GHS) Dr. Anthony Nsiah-Asare, said the intention to have Centres of Excellence is to make Ghana first place of call for the treatment of Sickle Cell in Africa.
President of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana, Prof. Kwaku Ohene-Frempong, said the future looks brighter with the introduction of the drug which has been in existence for many years but never been launched in Africa.
“For more than 5 thousand years, people with sickle cell disease have lived with pain and other health problems and died too young; however, in the last 25 years hydraxyurea, a medicine that reduces the occurrence of the severe pain and other complications has been available.