Professor Solomon Fiifi Ofori-Acquah, the Director of the West Africa Genetic Medicine Centre (WAGMC), has called for the training of a workforce in genetic health to enable them to diagnose and treat genetic disorders that may affect the populace.
He observed that many children were dying from cancer, sickle cell and other genetic-related diseases, owing to the lack of capacity to understand and correct those conditions.
“Every year, 400 children are diagnosed with cancers, many of which are driven by mutations. We don’t have the capacity to delve deep into the mutations responsible for childhood cancers and for majority of Ghanaians, this potentially could be a death sentence because there is no way to diagnose it,” he said.
Prof Ofori-Acquah, also the Director of the Ghanaian Genome (GhGenome) Project, said Ghana faced a developmental health challenge, stressing the need to train Ghanaians in genetic health to combat it.
He disclosed this at a public lecture at the University of Cape Coast (UCC) aimed at awakening the consciousness of Ghanaians and policymakers on the importance of genetics in the delivery of quality health and the need to develop expertise.
The GhGenome Project, through several postgraduate degree programmes, therefore, seeks to train experts in medical molecular genetics to support the genome sequencing of some 1,000 children with severe genetic conditions, including 500 sickle cell and 200 childhood cancer patients.
Prof Ofori-Acquah said the project was embarking on a genome sequencing exercise for Ghanaians that could reveal the risks to diseases and determine the appropriate medicine for them.
“It is our collective duty to decode the mutations that give rise to rare genetic disorders and create the environment for those who are unfortunate to have these diseases to get answers,” he said.
It was important for every person to understand genetics and get to know his or her genetic status because some genes inherited could predispose the individual to diseases, he said, adding that it had led to many societal problems including accusation of witchcraft and broken marriages.
Professor Ofori-Acquah called on the public for funding support to help the project succeed, noting that they had already secured 300 million dollars in funding from the USA to sequence the genome of the sickle cell patients, saying about 15,000 children were born every year with the disease.
“This is the time to contribute. We hope to raise funds locally. We shouldn’t let foreign agencies fund the decoding of our genomes,” he appealed.
Professor Johnson Nyarko Boampong, the UCC Vice Chancellor, said the project would improve health and well-being of people with sickle cell, diabetes, kidney and cancer diseases and most importantly educate the guardian population on how to manage the situation.
He entreated all to embrace problem solving programmes and pledged the UCC’s support and partnership with the project to ensure its success.