Your Baby & Toddler - - Special Needs -

Dr Jen­nifer Geel, a pae­di­atric on­col­o­gist at the Char­lotte Max­eke Aca­demic Hos­pi­tal, says: “We have a clinic with more than 400 ac­tive pa­tients at our hos­pi­tal. We treat these chil­dren with reg­u­lar an­tibi­otics and sup­ple­ments and en­cour­age them to keep them­selves healthy by drink­ing lots of wa­ter, get­ting in­fec­tions treated early and avoid­ing ex­tremes of tem­per­a­ture (nei­ther too hot nor too cold).”

One way po­ten­tially to cure the dis­ease is to re­place all the bone mar­row in a pa­tient’s body with donor stem cells, which can grow into new bone mar­row and make new, healthy red blood cells. But the pro­ce­dure is still new, risky, and com­plex, re­quir­ing a long and trau­matic course of chemo­ther­apy and hos­pi­tal stay.

“Our health sys­tem is un­der enor­mous fi­nan­cial strain,” says Dr Geel. “Stem cell ther­apy of­fers a cure, but in South Africa it is pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive at more than R1 mil­lion per bone mar­row trans­plant. Blood and platelet re­quire­ments alone can’t be met with cur­rent de­mand – trans­plant­ing all these pa­tients is not pos­si­ble.”

Ad­vances in treat­ment mean that sci­en­tists now know which spe­cific gene mu­ta­tion causes sickle cell anaemia. Re­plac­ing the faulty gene is an­other pos­si­bil­ity for cur­ing the dis­ease in the fu­ture. Says Dr Geel: “Gene ther­apy has been done suc­cess­fully in the US, but it’s not yet an op­tion here.”

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