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JIS News

Some 25,000 newborns in the parishes of Manchester, Clarendon and St. Elizabeth have been screened for sickle cell disease under the Sickle Cell Trust’s Manchester Project.
In addition, 2,600 high school students in Manchester and Clarendon are being tested for the trait each year, as the Trust works to reduce the incidence of the disease in Jamaica.
The $44 million Manchester project, which got underway in 2008, is being funded by the National Health Fund (NHF) and the Alcoa Foundation, and is being operated from a laboratory located at the Mandeville offices of the Southern Regional Health Authority (SRHA).
The NHF is providing $28 million for the undertaking, with $16 million coming from Alcoa through local company Jamalco.
Head of the Trust, Professor Graham Serjeant, who took Jamalco’s Managing Director, Jerome Maxwell, on a familiarisation tour of the project recently, said about 8,500 newborns are tested for sickle cell disease in the southern parishes each year.
The screenings are carried out at the Mandeville Regional, Percy Junor and Hargreaves Hospitals in Manchester; the Black River Hospital in St. Elizabeth; and the May Pen Hospital in Clarendon.
He said that from the yearly screenings, between 50 and 60 infants are found with some form of the disease and they are referred to the Sickle Cell Clinic at the Mandeville Regional Hospital so that they can receive comprehensive care.
A major part of the project is to identify young people, with the genotype for the sickle cell trait and provide them with counseling, which it is hoped, will influence their reproductive decisions, so as to reduce the number of babies born with the disease.
Professor Serjeant informed that the students, who are screened, are given a laminated card with their personal data and their haemoglobin genotype.
The blood samples from the students and newborns are tested at the well equipped SHRA laboratory and also at facilities in Germany and Britain.
Mr. Maxwell commended Professor Serjeant and his team for the work they are doing, noting that the success of the project has wider implications for the eradication of the disease in Jamaica and in Africa, where it is also prevalent.
SRHA’s Technical Director, Dr. Michael Coombs, expressed gratitude to the donors, noting that the financial support will ensure that the project meets its objectives.
Sickle-cell disease or sickle-cell anaemia is a recessive genetic blood disorder, which comes as a result of inheriting abnormal haemoglobin genes from both parents. It is characterised by the red blood cells assuming an abnormal, rigid, sickle shape. Sickling decreases the cells’ flexibility, blocking blood flow in the blood vessels in the limbs and organs, which can cause pain, serious infections, and organ damage.
One in 250 babies born in Jamaica has sickle cell disease and one in every 10 persons has the sickle cell trait.