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Improving Childhood Immunization Campaigns Could Reduce Sickle-Cell Deaths In Africa, Study Finds

By offering all children in Africa vaccines that protect against bacterial infections, researchers say the number of deaths among children living with sickle-cell anemia could be reduced, Reuters reports. An estimated 200,000 children in Africa annually are born with sickle-cell anemia, a genetic disease “in which red blood cells deform into a sickle shape and cluster, blocking blood flow and causing pain, vulnerability to infections and organ damage.” African children with the condition commonly die before they are even diagnosed and receive treatment, according to Tom Williams, of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KMRI), lead author of the Lancet study published Thursday.

In the study, researchers from KMRI and Wellcome Trust detail the results of the blood screening of roughly 40,000 children admitted into the Kilifi District Hospital in Kenya over a 10 year period for bacterial infections. “While in the general population fewer than three in 1,000 children were found to have sickle cell anaemia, this figure increased more than 20-fold – to more than 60 per 1,000 – for children admitted to hospital with bacterial infections,” the news service writes, adding “[t]he most common causes of bacterial infection among children with sickle-cell were Streptococcus pneumoniae (41 percent of cases) and Haemophilus influenzae type b (12 percent of cases)” (9/10).

“Our study provides strong impetus for the introduction of vaccination programmes for all children in Africa, a move that will dramatically improve the survival chances of children born with sickle cell anaemia,” Williams said in a Wellcome Trust press release. “Health policies need to be based on solid evidence such as this research, rather than on rumour and personal preference.”

The researchers also appealed for the need of African governments to pay closer attention to the crippling health effects of sickle-cell anemia, which they propose cause “up to one quarter of all child-deaths … with bacterial infections accounting for a sizable proportion,” according to the release (9/9).