KINDU, Democratic Republic Of The Congo, July 16, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --
It is estimated that 25 percent of Congolese adults have sickle cell anemia trait, a debilitating disease of the blood transmitted genetically to newborn children. Of the 50,000 Congolese children born annually with sickle cell, 75 percent will die before age two. Support from the Gertler Family Foundation (GFF) is saving the lives of hundreds of these children and reducing infant mortality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Sickle cell anemia (SCA) is a blood related disorder that affects the hemoglobin molecule, and causes the entire blood cell to change shape under stressed conditions. It affects millions of people throughout the world and is particularly common in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In people with SCA, the hemoglobin molecule is defective. After hemoglobin molecules give up their oxygen, some may cluster together and form long, rod-like structures, which become stiff and assume sickle shape. Normal red blood cells live about 120 days in the bloodstream. Sickled red cells die after 10 to 20 days. Because the body cannot replace the cells fast enough, the blood is chronically short of red blood cells, leading to a condition commonly referred to as anemia.
Learning that increasingly in developing countries early diagnosis and adequate monitoring of children born with sickle cell disease (SCD) not only allows for a reduction in mortality and short- and long-term complications associated with the disease, but can also improve the quality and life expectancy of patients, GFF found ways to actively help.
With financial support from GFF, Dr. Baron Ngasia, a founder of the Sickle Cell Disease Research Network in Central Africa (REDAC), established a SCD unit at Lumbu Lumbu Hospital in Kindu, Maniema Province, where he is also the medical director. In addition to research, screening and treatment management for newborns with SCD, educating parents about SCD and SCD training for medical staff has been ongoing at the hospital since 2013.
In May 2014, GFF also co-sponsored REDAC's 5th Symposium, which was held in Kinshasa, the DRC capital. More than 150 participants from across the DRC, Africa, Europe, and the United States gathered to discuss establishing a national SCD program in the DRC; working with the Ministry of Health to develop SCD policy; and improving the knowledge and SCD practical skills of health care providers.
"Newborn screening combined with early diagnosis of SCA associated with a specific immunization and penicillin prophylaxis are key to the management of the disease in DRC and other African countries," said Dr. Ngasia. "The Gertler Family Foundation's interest and support for REDAC and to fund the creation of a dedicated SCD unit at a hospital in the DRC is groundbreaking and saving lives here."
GFF is also supporting the advancement of sickle cell screening and treatment at Hôpital du Cinquantenaire de Kisangani, its signature healthcare project in eastern DRC.
Mr. Dan Gertler is a co-founder of GFF. The DRC's leading foundation, GFF is committed to helping meet the needs of vulnerable Congolese. Since its inception in 2004, GFF has invested tens of millions of dollars in health, education, agriculture, emergency relief, infrastructure, culture and other projects across the DRC.
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SOURCE Gertler Family Foundation