The reality of life for sufferers from sickle cell disease is one that no one would wish for their loved ones.
SCD comes from an abnormality in the oxygen-carrying protein haemoglobin usually found in the red blood cells. The abnormally shaped haemoglobin hinders blood flow and makes it difficult for oxygen to reach the victim’s body tissues, resulting in either acute or chronic pains, especially at the joints. This event, called a crisis, might result in constant visits to the hospital and in some cases result in death.
In Nigeria, nearly150,000 children are born with SCD every year, and more than 40 million are carriers of the sickle cell trait – the highest in the world. According to 2014 WHO data, at least 100,000 babies die from the disorder every year in Nigeria. For a number of pregnant mothers in Nigeria, the lack of well-equipped DNA laboratories for Prenatal Diagnosis (PND) in the country meant that the news of their baby’s status was usually unknown to them even after childbirth, which results in fear and confusion.
There is hope though. Since 2006, the MTN Foundation in collaboration with the Sickle Cell Foundation Nigeria (SCFN) has funded the development of a DNA laboratory at the National Sickle Centre in Lagos to help mothers know the status of their unborn child.
Prior to the intervention, the practice was to take test samples abroad for further analysis and diagnosis after preliminary tests were conducted in Nigeria – a long and expensive process for many low-income mothers in a country where health insurance is a luxury for many.
The MTN Foundation has continued to support the laboratory, investing in technology, counselling and training of SCFN personnel. It recently completed the upgrade of the laboratory with a genetic analyser and other cutting-edge equipment.
The centre is now operating at full capacity and carries out all relevant tests and diagnosis. The plan is to keep supporting the laboratory to deliver PND services in Nigeria, and for the rest of West Africa.
Prenatal diagnosis (PND) is a leading solution to prevent sickle cell disease for babies and infants world over with a simplified procedure using early obstetric and laboratory techniques, as well as genetic counselling and other early treatment options.
Speaking recently during the handover ceremony of the upgraded lab, Prince Adelusi-Adeluyi, Chairman of MTN Foundation restated that the Foundation will continue to support the DNA Laboratory in keeping to its commitment to improving health care delivery and capacity development in Nigeria’s health sector.
This is in addition to promoting other initiatives under the Foundation’s Mother and Child Causes aimed at reducing the mortality rate.