Available data suggest that Nigeria has the highest burden of sickle cell disorder in the world with over 40 million Nigerians carrying the gene. One in two babies born with SCD in the world is Nigerian. The importance of understanding the often talked about but seldom understood Sickle Cell Disorder (SCD) cannot be overemphasized. Beyond understanding the disorder, the positive news is that there are organisations in Nigeria that are committed to reducing its prevalence in the country.
SCD comes from an abnormality in the oxygen-carrying protein haemoglobin usually found in the red blood cells. The abnormally shaped haemoglobin hinders blood flow and makes it difficult for oxygen to reach the victim’s body tissues, resulting in either acute or chronic pains, especially at the joints. This is the experience described as a crisis.
According to data from the World Health Organisation for 2014, at least 100,000 infant lives are lost to the disorder annually in Nigeria. Prenatal diagnosis (PND) is a leading solution to prevent sickle cell disease for babies and infants world over with a simplified procedure using early obstetric and laboratory techniques.
For a good number of pregnant Nigerian mothers, the lack of adequately equipped DNA laboratories for PND in the country meant that the status of their baby is usually unknown even after childbirth, which results in fear and confusion.
In response to this age-long challenge, the MTN Foundation in 2006 collaborated with the Sickle Cell Foundation Nigeria (SCFN) to fund the development of a DNA laboratory at the National Sickle Centre in Lagos to help mothers know the status of their unborn child. Prior to the intervention, the practice was to take test samples abroad for further analysis and diagnosis after preliminary tests were conducted in Nigeria – a long and expensive process for low-income mothers in a country where health insurance is a luxury for many.
In furtherance of this continued support for the SCFN, the MTN Foundation has just concluded the upgrade of the laboratory with a genetic analyser and other state-of-the-art equipment required for the end-to-end diagnosis of the sickle cell disorder in pregnant mothers. The lab upgrade is a critical step in aiding the SCFN to achieve its goals of delivering excellent care to Nigerian sickle cell patients.
The centre is now operating at full capacity and carries out all relevant tests and diagnosis. The continued support for the centre empowers it to deliver PND services in Nigeria and for the West Africa region.
Prince Adelusi-Adeluyi, Chairman of MTN Foundation stated during the handover ceremony of the upgraded lab that the Foundation will continue to support the DNA Laboratory in keeping to its commitment to improving health care delivery and capacity development in Nigeria’s health sector.
This is in addition to promoting other initiatives under the Foundation’s mother and child cause aimed at reducing the mortality rate.