Government moves to have key sickle cell drug made in Tanzania

What you need to know:

  • In Tanzania from the two million children born yearly, 11, 000 to 14, 000 children among them are born with sickle cell.
  • This translates to 6 or 8 patients in every 1, 000 births.

Dar es Salaam. The government is engaging in discussions with key stakeholders in the healthcare sector to establish a local manufacturer of Hydroxyurea, a medicine used to treat sickle cell.

The discussions according to the chief medical officer, Prof Tumaini Nagu, are focused on establishing a sustainable supply chain and improving access and affordability.

The chief medical officer, Prof Tumaini Nagu, addresses a news conference in Dar es Salaam on July 12, 2023 during a scientific forum that discussed sickle cell disease and its treatment. Others are Prof Apollinary Kamuhabwa of the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (Muhas) and Dr Rehema Horera from the Education, Science and Technology ministry. PHOTO | MICHAEL MATEMANGA.

Prof Nagu was speaking yesterday during an official launch of the Lancet Haematology Commission on sickle cell disease at the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (Muhas).

“There is still a need for a sustainable supply of the hydroxyurea at the medical stores,” she said citing that current short-term initiatives by the government were to include the medicine in insurance cover to improve accessibility.

She added, “In terms of patient management, the government has formulated plans to enhance access to exchange blood transfusion and ensure the availability of safe blood for all individuals suffering from sickle cell disease.”

Prof Nagu regarded this development as a favourable trajectory, supported by current statistics indicating that the country has achieved an impressive 84 percent adequacy rate in terms of blood supply.

Other plans for the government according to the chief medical officer also include the implementation of the national guideline for the management of sickle cell in Tanzania and which was in recent weeks signed by the Ministry of Health.

“The treatment guideline underscores interventions such as newborn screening, premarital screening, and health promotion in secondary schools,” she said.

In Tanzania from the two million children born yearly, 11, 000 to 14, 000 children among them are born with sickle cell.

This translates to 6 or 8 patients in every 1, 000 births.

“This makes our country fifth with the highest number of sickle cell cases globally, behind Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Angola, and India,” said Prof Nagu, adding that the disease account for seven percent of the under-five years’ mortality.

Prof Nagu said the government also plans to improve the capacity for early diagnostics, such as laboratory services.

The government also plans to expand bone marrow transplant services with the Sh5 billion budget allocated in the current fiscal year.

“The country has also successfully done a bone marrow transplant for three sick cell patients,” she said adding that more initiatives have also been directed to improve the availability of data.

According to a report by The Lancet Haematology Commission, the main obstacle preventing better outcomes on the interventions to reduce the mortality and morbidity associated with sickle cell globally is inequalities impacting the patient populations.

“Although high-quality care is available in well-resourced centers of excellence in cities (for example Kilifi in Kenya and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania), the vast majority of people with sickle cell disease do not have access to basic health care,” the Lancet writes in part.

“… healthcare professionals (with the support of policymakers, funders, etc) should make sure that a minimum standard of care (including screening, prophylaxis against infection, acute medical care, safe blood transfusion, and hydroxyurea) is available to all patients,”

Muhas’ acting Chancellor, Prof Apollinary Kamuhabwa, made an additional statement emphasizing the school’s significant involvement in combating sickle cell disease through research.

He acknowledged the importance of obtaining tangible evidence to support the utilization of such research.

“Notably, Muhas recently received a commendation for its exceptional performance and will persist in delivering comprehensive expertise and conducting in-depth investigations into non-communicable diseases, including sickle cell disease,” he said.