Sickle cell good news

Sigma run funds will lay foundation for universal screening


Tuesday, January 21, 2014    

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HEALTH officials who specialise in treating sickle cell patients are hopeful that within the next three years all Jamaican children will be screened for the disease.

Their anticipation has been heightened by the fact that funds from this year's staging of Sagicor Jamaica's Sigma Corporate Run will be donated to the Sickle Cell Unit at the University of the West Indies and the Sickle Cell Trust in Mandeville.

"After the run, we will work with the Ministry of Health to go into the different hospitals to establish universal screening," Dr Jennifer Knight-Madden, senior lecturer and head of the Sickle Cell Unit, said at yesterday's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.

"We will be teaching everybody how to do it. We have to set up the logistics. We hope that in two to three years everybody will be screened," she added.

Knight-Madden and head of the trust, Professor Graham Serjeant, were thankful that their entities were chosen as beneficiaries this year and expressed their gratitude that isoelectronic focusing and High Performance Liquid Chromatic machines (HPLC) will be donated to the unit.

The machines cost US$50,000 and US$75,000 respectively.

"It is a process, and the unit will be able to screen the north of the island and the trust will screen the south," Knight-Madden told reporters and editors.

Sickle cell disease is a hereditary blood disorder characterised by red blood cells that assume a sickle like shape. The abnormal shape decreases the cells' flexibility and results in a risk of various complications.

People who have been diagnosed with the disease have a life expectancy of 55 years, but due to improved treatment individuals have lived into their 80s.

Dr Knight-Madden urged parents to check the tummies of their young children for abnormal lumps as this may be a sign that the child is stricken with the disease.

HPLC machines allow doctors to analyse and separate the components in blood, identify and quantify each component, while isoelectric focusing involves the separation of proteins in the blood.

Both testing methods are very crucial to sickle cell screening.

When the machines have been handed over to the unit, both entities will go to their demarcated sections of the island and ramp up screening activities.

According to Professor Serjeant, the Government must come on board and implement steps to ensure that mandatory tests are conducted on all newborns.

"We have to convince the Government that it is their responsibility to take over this and they will actually save money by adopting these programmes," he said.

He pointed out that staff at hospitals he had visited were willing to begin screening immediately once they were apprised of the facts.

Universal screening of newborn babies is mandatory in the United States and Britain.

The Sigma Corporate Run has been held for the past 15 years and funds generated from the event have been donated to various charities, including Mustard Seed Communities, Bustamante Hospital for Children, University Hospital of the West Indies Maternity Ward, the Jamaica National Children's Home, Best Care Lodge, Jamaica Aids Support for Life and the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre.





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