The Ministry of Health, Ghana Health Service and other allied agencies have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with global medicines company, Novartis, to create a new public-private partnership to improve the diagnosis and treatment of sickle cell disease (SCD).
The MoU has made Ghana the first African country to commit to offering the global standard of care to people with sickle cell diseases.
Mr Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, the Minister of Health; Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, Director-General of the Ghana Health Service; and Prof Kwaku Ohene-Frempong, President of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana and Programme Coordinator of the New-born Screening Programme for Sickle Cell Disease, signed on behalf of their respective organisations, while Vas Narasimhan, CEO, initialled on behalf of Novartis.
It is estimated that approximately 80% of individuals with sickle cell diseases globally are born in the sub-Saharan Africa, and more than half of affected individuals die before the age of five due to preventable complications.
In Ghana, it is estimated that 15,000 babies are born with sickle cell disease every year.
The Government of Ghana-Novartis partnership aimed at improving and extending the lives of people with SCD through a comprehensive approach to screening and diagnosis; treatment and disease management; training and education; and elevating basic and clinical research and scientific capabilities.
The partners to the MoU would collaborate on field testing and implementation of SCD treatment guidelines, the establishment of centres of excellence across regions and the implementation of new-born screening at those centres.
Speaking after the announcement of the MoU at the sidelines of the ongoing 2019 edition of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr Agyemang-Manu expressed confidence that the collaboration would help provide improved health care and reduce preventable deaths.
“We are pleased to partner with the Sickle Cell Foundation and Novartis in order to address sickle cell disease in Ghana.
We are committed to put SCD among the priorities on our national health agenda and to put the required resources behind it.
Together, we can actively contribute to ending preventable deaths of new-borns and children under 5 years of age, as set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” he stated.
Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, Director-General of the Ghana Health Service, noted that the partnership with Novartis would have many benefits for persons with sickle cell disease, including a reduction in treatment costs and access to cutting edge research materials.
“Sickle Cell is an age-old disease that has led to many avoidable deaths over the years. This partnership will help the Ghana Health Service to tackle it head on, and also make its treatment affordable and sustainable, “he said.
Dr Nsiah-Asare said the partnership would help to improve access to high quality treatment for patients in Ghana, with Novartis committed to testing innovative sickle treatments in the country, which would also provide data for further studies.
“Ghana is set to be the gateway to sickle cell disease research in Africa,” he noted.
The partnership has already begun to yield results, with Dr Nsiah-Asare revealing that Novartis submitted, in 2018, Hydroxyurea, the current general standard of care for severe SCD, for registration for the specific indication of SCD in Ghana.
The Ghana Food and Drugs Authority has since October 25, 2018, granted marketing authorization, thus making it the first time that hydroxyurea would be available to patients for this indication in Ghana.
“Discussions are underway for inclusion of the medicine and associated laboratory testing in the National Health Insurance Scheme, as well as priortizing this as a national programme, with direct distribution through the Ministry of Health” he added.
Hydroxyurea treatment is expected to start reaching hundreds of patients in 2019.
Prof. Kwaku Ohene-Frempong, President of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana, for his part, expressed confidence about the positive benefits of the collaboration.
“Our biggest challenge is that we simply don’t make the diagnosis early enough. Ghana is one of the few African countries that has a new-born screening programme. But there’s not a single country that tests all their children for SCD.
As a result, we are losing hundreds of thousands of babies across Africa each year without even a diagnosis of the disease, saying that the collaboration would bring global attention to the disease.
Explaining the rationale behind his company’s decision to partner with the Government of Ghana, Vas Narasimhan, MD, CEO of Novartis, said his outfit had a long-term commitment to ensuring that it’s medicines and healthcare in general were accessible to many patients as possible.
“Our hope is that we’ll continue to re-imagine the way this disease is treated, in order to offer better medicines and improve care to sickle cell patients in Africa and around the world.
“I am proud that Novartis is committed to addressing this challenge, “he added.
Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, who is attending the Economic Forum, expressed his appreciation to Novartis for working with the Government of Ghana to improve access to quality health care.