Government has entered into a strategic agreement with Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company, Novartis, to provide funding for sickle cell disease (SCD) testing in all new born babies in Ghana including hydroxyurea for treatment.
The memorandum of understanding (MoU) which was signed during the World Economic Forum in Davos in January this year, and will last for five years, is a collaboration between the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Ministry of Health, Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana and Novartis.
Highlights of the partnership include establishing national treatment guidelines, newborn screening, and centers of excellence for treatment of SCD; making accessible treatment options available in line with the global standards of care; and using digital technologies to monitor and evaluate patient registration, reporting real-time data, and helping ensure safe large scale roll-out of medicine.
Out of the 950,000 babies born in Ghana annually, about 15,000 of them are estimated to have SCD. It is an inherited disorder affecting two percent of all babies born in Ghana and the commonest genetic condition of clinical and epidemiological importance in Africa.
Over 95 percent of children born with the disease die before the age of 5 years.
Announcing the agreement in Accra on Wednesday, November 6, Director-General of GHS, Dr. Anthony Nsiah Asare said government is also finalizing negotiations to include SCD treatment on the National Health Insurance Scheme and to open Centres of Excellence for testing in all 16 regions across the country.
As part of the agreement, government will provide funding of up to US$5 for sickle cell testing for every baby born in Ghana.
With the partnership, Ghana has become the the first African country to commit to offering the global standard of care for its citizens in relation to sickle cell disease.
To date, Novartis has delivered more than 20 000 treatments of hydroxyurea. Initially, the therapy will be made available through 11 trained treatment centers, as well as through private distribution channels, and is expected to cover the needs of patients for up to 12 months.
The partners aim to open more treatment centers by the end of the year, and Novartis is committed to delivering a total of 60 000 treatments.
Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia at the announcement ceremony, said, “I am proud of this bold partnership, and it is my hope that, through this collaboration, we will help ease the pain and improve the lives of people living with sickle cell disease in our country. We are committed to put SCD among the priorities on our national health agenda and to take the necessary steps to make treatment broadly available through our NHIS bringing much-needed relief to families struggling to cover the cost of care for their loved ones.
Head of Global Health at Novartis, Patrice Matchaba expressed excitement at the partnership and said Ghana will be the biggest beneficiary.
Prof. Kwaku Ohene-Frempong, MD, President of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana and Program Coordinator for the National Newborn Screening Program for Sickle Cell Disease said the SCD is a neglected health problem in sub-Saharan Africa.
Approximately 80 percent of individuals with SCD globally, are born in Sub-Sahara Africa.