Thu | Dec 7, 2023

Easing the financial strain of sickle-cell disease

Persons living with the condition urged to apply for NHF card

Published:Wednesday | June 22, 2022 | 12:08 AM
Everton Anderson, CEO, National Health Fund.
Everton Anderson, CEO, National Health Fund.

The National Health Fund (NHF) is partnering with the Sickle Cell Unit, Caribbean Institute for Health Research (CAIHR), at The University of the West Indies to raise awareness of the disease and to encourage persons living with the condition to apply for the NHF card.

Interim director at the Sickle Cell Unit, CAIHR, Dr Nicki Chin, says support from the NHF and other organisations goes a long way in helping to provide medical and life support to patients.

“The Sickle Cell Unit helps with the healthcare management of persons with sickle cell disease. Unfortunately, a number of our patients are unable to afford what they need. The NHF then is integral in providing access to pharmaceuticals that improve their quality of life,” Dr Chin said.

Sickle cell disease is one of the 17 conditions covered by the NHF card programme and in the last financial year, the NHF paid $4.5 million in claims for drugs used to treat the condition. Enrolled beneficiaries presently receive subsidies on 32 drug items used to treat the condition.

Last year NHF added seven items – Diosmin and Hesperidin Tablets, Ketanserin Gel, Zinc Hyaluronate Gel, Amoxicillin & Clavulanic acid, Azithromycin, Folic Acid and Mupirocin Ointment.There are currently 2,440 sickle cell beneficiaries of the NHF card programme – 1,401 females and 1,039 males – with 1,897 (78 per cent) being 19 years and older.

“Sickle cell disease, like any other lifelong illness, comes with a great deal of out-of-pocket expenses. As an organisation with a goal of reducing the financial burden of healthcare for Jamaican residents living with chronic diseases, we are serious about our responsibility to offer support to those who are affected by this genetic condition. The NHF’s contribution helps to ease the financial strain on patients and positively impacts their quality of life,” said Everton W. Anderson, chief executive officer at the NHF.

Of note, patients who are seen at the Sickle Cell Unit, UWI and receive prescriptions there may also visit the NHF’s Drug Serv pharmacies across the island to access their medications on the Government’s Vital Essential and Necessary (VEN) list free of charge.

Fifteen per cent of Jamaicans are carriers of the sickle cell disease gene. One in every 150 persons has the disease and one in every 10 persons has the trait, thus making sickle cell disease a common genetic disorder in Jamaica.

World Sickle Cell Awareness Day is observed annually on June 19.

Symptoms of Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell anaemia is one of a group of inherited disorders known as sickle cell disease. It affects the shape of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all parts of the body.There is no cure for most persons with sickle cell anaemia. Treatments can relieve pain and help prevent complications associated with the disease.

Signs and symptoms of sickle cell anaemia usually appear around six months of age. They vary from person to person and may change over time. Signs and symptoms can include:

• Anaemia – Sickle cells break apart easily and die. Red blood cells usually live for about 120 days before they need to be replaced. But sickle cells typically die in 10 to 20 days, leaving a shortage of red blood cells (anaemia). Without enough red blood cells, the body can’t get enough oxygen and this causes fatigue.

• Episodes of Pain - Periodic episodes of extreme pain, called pain crises, are a major symptom of sickle cell anaemia. Pain develops when sickle-shaped red blood cells block blood flow through tiny blood vessels to your chest, abdomen and joints.The pain varies in intensity and can last for a few hours to a few days. Some people have only a few pain crises a year. Others have a dozen or more a year. A severe pain crisis requires a hospital stay.

• Swelling of Hands and Feet – The swelling is caused by sickle-shaped red blood cells blocking blood circulation in the hands and feet.

• Frequent Infections – Sickle cells can damage the spleen, increasing vulnerability to infections. Infants and children with sickle cell anaemia commonly receive vaccinations and antibiotics to prevent potentially life-threatening infections, such as pneumonia.

• Delayed Growth or Puberty – Red blood cells provide the body with the oxygen and nutrients needed for growth. A shortage of healthy red blood cells can slow growth in infants and children and delay puberty in teenagers.

• Vision Problems – Tiny blood vessels that supply the eyes can become plugged with sickle cells. This can damage the retina – the portion of the eye that processes visual images – and lead to vision problems.

When To See A Doctor:

See your doctor right away if you or your child has symptoms of sickle cell anaemia. Children with sickle cell anaemia are prone to infections, which often start with a fever and can be life-threatening. Seek prompt medical attention for a fever greater than 101.5 F (38.5 C).