The Sickle Cell Condition Awareness Advocates (SICCA), a non-governmental organisation, in partnership with the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, has launched the first Sickle Cell Pre-conception Screening Project in Ghana.

The Project, which was on the theme: “Sickle Cell is Preventable; Know your Sickle Cell Status”, sought to increase public awareness of the condition through counselling, particularly for young people, and encourage pre-conception screening to enable them to make informed decisions.

The project, would among other things, identify, support and liaise with social activists and other organisations with similar objectives, solicit for funds to assist people with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) who could not afford hospital bills, assist in the establishment of special Clinics and support groups, and also organise workshops for both health professionals and the public for further enlightenment.

Madam Tina Gifty Naa Ayeley Mensah, the Deputy Minister of Health, at the launch, which was also part of the activities to commemorate this year’s World Sickle Cell Day in Accra, said the high burden of SCD in Africa including Ghana, led to intensified campaigns and declarations over the last decade.

She commended SICCA, for the initiative and partnership with all stakeholders to address the issue of prevention after undertaking a successful pilot project to ascertain the country’s status of SCD, using the three Northern regions as a test case and focusing especially on the youth.

According to her, Ghana and other countries in West and Central Africa had been identified to have the highest prevalence rate of SCD and related disorders, with about 20 to 30 per cent of the people in these areas being carriers.

A pilot screening programme for SCD in Ghana, she said, confirmed that approximately two per cent, translating to 16,000 babies, were born with the condition each year, which called for a holistic attempt to provide clinical, health, educational, social and psychological care for the affected as well as unaffected populations.

Madam Mensah said the physical, emotional and financial stress that people with the SCD and their families go through, the high prevalence rate, coupled with the lack of knowledge of the management and care of those affected by the condition, and the inadequate facilities, made it urgent to take steps geared towards reducing the incidence to the barest minimum.

She said SCD had also been identified as a threat to the economic and social development of countries where the condition was endemic and the need to find ways for its prevention and treatment was overdue.

She said although treatment for SCD was free under the National Health Insurance Scheme, there were still some challenges such as inadequate infrastructure, funding, equipment and improved human resource capacity for quality care and services.

The Deputy Minister called on all health institutions to give special attention to people living with SCD, seek improvement in the welfare of patient and their families, and embark on intensive health education to encourage more people to test for their status prior to conception screening.

She also encouraged persons living with the condition, to access health care services at regular intervals in order to stay healthy.

Ms Charllotte Owusu, the Founder of SICCA, said the pilot project would begin in the Greater Accra Region, with the main aim of screening final year students in Senior High Schools, who then become advocates of pre-conception screening.

According to her Ghana’s educational sector presented a critical opportunity for reaching a formidable group of young people with basic information of SCD, thus introducing counselling and screening into schools would drastically reduce such incidences of the disease.

Dr Owen Kaluwa, the WHO Country Representative, however said despite all the global and regional effort, progress at country levels had been slow, and urged Member States to give priority by increasing resource allocation especially for prevention and effective management, provision of adequate infrastructure, equipment, medicines and research.

GNA