Newborn Sickle Cell Screening Programme off to fast start

Chair of the paediatric department, Dr Shivon Belle-Jarvis (File photo)
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The Newborn Sickle Cell Screening Programme at the Mount St John’s Medical Center (MSJMC), has had a productive start with 35 babies having been screened up to last week.

The programme was officially launched at the start of this month, with the aim of supporting parents through early detection of the disease.

Speaking on the developments, chair of the paediatric department, Dr Shivon Belle-Jarvis, said the programme is meeting their expectations, as well as satisfying the parents.

“So far the screening programme has been going quite well…so far there have been no concerns, and parents are actually happy that this opportunity has been afforded them, and they actually wish that this was something we had done [earlier],” she shared.

The programme – free of cost to families – is currently only accessible at Mount St John’s, but Belle-Jarvis said that plans are moving ahead to expand to private medical facilities, and also to Barbuda.

She said: “What we have noticed so far is that persons from Barbuda that are actually here in Antigua, would have benefitted from the screening program…we have not yet conducted the screening for Barbuda though, but we are getting there shortly. We are trying to recognise what are some of the kinks so that we can get it to work smoothly; so we can then extend it to the outside facilities.”

As far as the programme’s goals, Belle-Jarvis added that the ultimate goal remains screening every newborn in the country.

Another goal is to sustain the programme after the grant comes to an end.

“We have about 1100 babies being delivered per year. Our aim is to basically screen every baby; those that are born in the public system and those that are born privately…

“The ultimate aim as well is to make sure that we work on sustainability, and I think that needs some additional tweaking because the grant through CAREST initially should have been two years, but because of some delays it will ultimately end in 2021,” the paediatrician added.

The cost attached to the testing is covered by the American University of Antigua while the Caribbean Network of Researchers on Sickle Cell Disease and Thalassemia (CAREST) is facilitating the testing in a laboratory in Guadeloupe.

Once a baby is born, the placenta or afterbirth is used for the screening. The umbilical cord itself is also used – a few drops of blood are taken and applied to a card and sent overseas.

The results of the recent tests are pending.

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