Newborn sickle cell screening programme gaining momentum

Dr Shivon Belle-Jarvis shared her satisfaction with the growth of the health programme
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by Carlena Knight

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Over 2,000 newborn babies have so far been tested through the newborn sickle cell screening programme since the initiative was launched by the Paediatric Department at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre (SLBMC) just over two years ago.

The programme was launched back in September 2020 to provide invaluable support to sickle cell patients and their families through early detection, and saves the country thousands in medical expenses.

Head of the department Dr Shivon Belle-Jarvis gave this newsroom the update and also spoke on the overall success of the programme.

According to Dr Belle-Jarvis, as of November 2022, 2,387 babies have been screened from inception through the programme.

Eighty-five percent were negative for sickle cell, 0.5 percent have the disease, 9.6 percent have the sickle cell trait, 4 percent the Hemoglobin C trait and 0.9% had an inconclusive result.

It is safe to say that the medical team at SLBMC is basking in the success and continued progress of the programme, as it heads into its third year with the good health of the nation’s young ones its top priority.

“That has been a tremendous success. The newborn screening for sickle cell disease is basically universal so any baby that is born at SLBMC is offered the screening test and we have even extended it to those babies who are born via private facilities and even in Barbuda. We are now doing universal screenings in all institutions at which babies are delivered. We are happy about the results,” Dr Belle-Jarvis said.

Sickle cell disease is the name for a group of inherited health conditions that affect the red blood cells, with the most serious being sickle cell anaemia.

According to years of data, the disease is particularly common in people with African and Caribbean ancestry, and is a serious and lifelong health condition that can be managed through proper treatment.

Access to the type of support provided through the programme, Dr Belle-Jarvis added, has been a source of gratitude for many parents across the country.

Based on the statistics, 82 percent of mothers knew their status and had their status documented in their antenatal card, while 18 percent of mothers had an unknown sickle cell status.

Fathers on the other hand, saw 3 percent knowing their status and, for 97 percent, their status were unknown.

“Most of our babies, as you would expect, are negative for sickle cell disease and we are definitely grateful. The parents have been contacted, they are grateful for the results and for those who do have the trait or the disease, they are still happy because now they know what to expect and they can now follow up with their private pediatricians, the community clinics or even us here at the hospital so that they can have the appropriate management and appropriate care,” she added.

She is also encouraging the parents and guardians of children living with sickle cell disease to ensure they receive consistent health checks and appropriate and timely treatment.

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