Sickle cells survey to be carried out

The department of Hematology at Rwanda Military Hospital in partnership with the Ministry of Health is set to carryout an epidemiological study on the features of sickle cells in Rwanda.
Patients at a health facility. The survey will help find out the number of Rwandans with Sickle cells. The New Times/ T. Kisambira.
Patients at a health facility. The survey will help find out the number of Rwandans with Sickle cells. The New Times/ T. Kisambira.

The department of Hematology at Rwanda Military Hospital in partnership with the Ministry of Health is set to carryout an epidemiological study on the features of sickle cells in Rwanda.

The countrywide study, to be conducted randomly selected health facilities, is aimed at ascertaining the number of people affected by the disease.

 Dr Fabien Ntaganda, a Hemato-Pathologist at Rwanda Military Hospital said there are no detailed figures of patients with sickle cell disease in the country.

“So far patients seen in my clinic come from DRC and Burundi, we need to know the sex ratio, siblings affected, the type of the disease we have and the association of other abnormal hemoglobin,” he told Saturday Times.

“The challenges we are facing currently is the ability to diagnose and classify the disease and also to do what we call family genetic studies,” he added.

 Worldwide, it has been estimated that 250,000 children are born each year with sickle-cell anaemia. Sickle-cell anaemia is an inherited blood disorder that arises from a single amino acid substitution in one of the component proteins of hemoglobin. Sickle-shaped cells – also called sickle cells – die much more rapidly than normal red blood cells.

 Normal red blood cells survive for approximately 120 days in the bloodstream; sickle cells last only 10-12 days. The body cannot create replacements fast enough and anemia develops due to the chronic shortage of red blood cells.

Dr Ntaganda says most of the patients present in hospital suffer from what is known as vasoocclusive crisis. “There is considerable pain in addition to damage to the tissues and organs. This damage can lead to serious complications, including stroke and an impaired immune system,” Ntaganda said.

Further complications arise because sickle cells do not fit well through small blood vessels, and can become trapped. The trapped sickle cells form blockages that prevent oxygenated blood from reaching associated tissues and organs. 

He cautions that patients with sickle cell disease should avoid exposure to cold, high altitude, avoid violent sport.

Sickle cell anaemia primarily affects people with African, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Indian ancestry. In the United States, African Americans are particularly affected.

“The management of sickle cell in Rwanda follows international guidelines, we try to control the pain, treat infections, and check for possible complications. However, we do not have the aphaeresis techniques which have a big impact in the management of sickle cell,” Ntaganda said.

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