By Agnes Kyotalengerire
A recent Uganda Sickle Cell surveillance study (US3) has revealed that Northern Uganda has the highest prevalence of the disease.
The preliminary findings of the on-going study indicated that the region has 18.6 % sickle cell trait. According to the study, the region also has the highest malaria parasites prevalence of 63% and highest anemia prevalence of 74%.
The senior consultant pediatrician working at Makerere University College of Health Sciences, Professor Grace Ndeezi said the study conducted by ministry of health together with Makerere College of health Sciences and Cincinnati Children’s hospital in the US was designed to map the prevalence of the sickle Cell anemia in Uganda.
“We have been quoting out dated figures of a study that was conducted in 1949 indicating the Bamba having the highest sickle cell trait at 45%,” Professor Ndeezi said.
She said the study used specimen of babies aged between six weeks and eighteen months collected from the 76 hubs distributed throughout the country for the early infant detection of HIV program.
The findings also indicate that there is association between sickle trait/disease with malaria parasitemia and anemia.
In the second position is East-Central with a sickle cell prevalence of 16.7%, malaria prevalence of 56% and anemia at 70%. This is followed by Mid-Eastern Uganda with a sickle cell trait prevalence of 16.5%, malaria at 36% and anemia prevalence and 57%. South-Western region has the lowest sickle cell trait prevalence of 4.1%, 12% malaria and 40% anemia.
Vice President Edward Ssekandi and minister Sarah Opendi (third left) in a group photo with some of the sicklers. PHOTO/ Agnes Kyotalengerire
The preliminary findings of the on- going survey were unveiled during a one-day 2nd annual conference sickle cell organized by Uganda American Sickle Cell Rescue Fund in collaboration with the ministry of health and BMK Group organized in Kampala on Thursday to commemorate the World Sickle Cell Day.
The World Sickle Cell Day was established by the United Nations General assembly in 2008 in order to increase awareness about the sickle cell disease and its cause among the common public.
Vice-President Edward Ssekandi while addressing participants said with the high sickle cell trait prevalence rates in the regions put couples at a risk of having a child with the sickle cell disease.
“This is an issue that should not be taken lightly because sickle cell disease is a reality in this country and a silent killer,” Ssekandi said.
He said part of the solution for the problem lies in opening and equipping sickle cell clinics, creating funds like Uganda American Sickle Cell Rescue Fund (UASCRF) and enhancing awareness among the ordinary people.
What is sickle cell anemia?
Head of sickle Cell Clinic Mulago hospital, Dr Phillip Kasirye said sickle cell anemia as an inherited condition where red blood cells become sickle shaped causing many problems.
Dr Kasirye said the red color of blood is made up of a pigment called hemoglobin which carries oxygen to body tissues for normal function & removes carbon dioxide.
“Normal hemoglobin is AA, carriers have AS and sickle cell patients have SS. Hemoglobin S is abnormal and it causes the red cells to form sickle shape & clog blood vessels. This causes pain, can lead to organ damage & increased risk to infections,” he said.
Early signs present at six to eight months with swelling of the hands and feet in the first year of life. Have low blood levels (anemic), yellow eyes especially when dehydrated, grow delays abnormally big heads, stroke, men usually have uncontrolled painful erection. Others may have ulcers and bone infections.
Worldwide, sickle cell disease is one of the most inherited diseases with Africa having the highest cases.
It is estimated that over 400,000 babies are born with sickle cell disease worldwide and over 200,000 births occurring in the sub-Saharan Africa.
Professor Ndeezi estimated that of the 1, 600,000 births per year, over 20,000 babies are suspected to be born with the sickle cell genre in Uganda annually.
She said out of the 23, 000, children’s specimen that was tested in the different regions during the study, it was discovered that 2,800 babies were carrying a sickle cell genre a proportion of 12%. This implies that one in every ten babies born in Uganda carry the genre.