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Discovery: New vaccine to combat sickle-cell anaemia

A new vaccine to treat sickle cell anaemia in Cameroon has been discovered. Known as Drepanovax, a drug sources from barks of Cameroonian trees, the vaccine is said to treat the disease effectively and rapidly.

A dynamic Cameroonian and researcher of high repute, Raphael Nitcheu who discovered the vaccine says it will go a long way to prevent the spread of the sickle cell disease and bring a solution to carriers.

“Drepanovax is a broad spectrum drug, among which we can quote the action to support the production of foetal haemoglobin for cell falciform anaemia sufferers; the depurative action: because it cleans spleens and blood of waste thereby preventing vasco-occlusive crises and haemolytic anaemia is very effective against the sickle cell disease,” he noted.

With over 400 000 sickle cell anaemia disease carriers in Cameroon, the Drepanovax whose effectiveness was proved to fight against cell falciform anaemia is said to have already treated about 6000 people.

According to a recent study, 1 in 3 Cameroonians is carrying the SS gene. The second congress on sickle-cell anaemia placed under the patronage of the Ministry of Public Health which took place in Yaoundé on June 9, 2016 under the theme “sickle-cell anaemia in Cameroon: inventory, management and prospects” examined this situation.

According to a joint report by the Sickle Cell Disease Association Platform (Convergence Sickle Cell Disease) and IECD, approximately 2% of new-borns are sickle-cell anaemia carriers and 25-30% of the Cameroonian population is likely to transmit the disease. Hence the introduction of socio-sanitary care for sickle-cell anaemia through neonatal screening of new-borns, training/retraining of health personnel for sickle-cell anaemia, awareness of the general public, advocacy with governments and sharing of best practices at the regional level. In addition, improving medical care by training health professionals and parents of sickle cell children and by funding vaccines and medicines are all measures geared towards curbing the disease.

A partnership agreement was signed on June 15, 2015 between the European Institute for Cooperation and Development (IECD), the Pierre Fabre Foundation, the Cameroon Sickle Cell Study Group (GEDREPACAM) and the Centre Pasteur of Cameroon (CPC) for the implementation of a project to improve the socio-sanitary care of sickle-cell anaemia in Cameroon.

Born some 73 years ago in Bafang in the West Region, Raphael Nitcheu, a private researcher has had several distinctions. Drepanovax obtained a patent of invention (African intellectual property organization -OAPI) on June 30, 2009.

Sickle cell disease is a life-long genetic disease that begins in childhood, affecting the structure of erythrocytes, altering the healthy biconcave shape to a crescent shape, leading to the blockage of veins, thereby resulting in organ damage. There is strong correlation between the frequency of the HbS gene and the historical distribution and incidences of malaria due to the partial HbS-carrier resistance to Plasmodium falciparum malaria. Indeed, Sickle Cell Anaemia mutation (HbS gene) appears to have occurred independently in 4 regions in Africa, defined by four haplotypes (Senegal, Benin, Bantu and Cameroon haplotypes). SCD is prevalent among indigenous populations in tropical regions of Africa and Asia; 305800 births with SCD are estimated to occur annually, nearly 67% of which take place in Africa. Sickle Cell Anaemia (SCA; the homozygous HbSS state) is by far the most prevalent and severe form of SCD.

Many countries in Africa have developed a national control program for SCD, however provisions of neonatal screening are rare and development of specialized centres for lifelong medical care and surveillance have yet to become part of many SCD health systems, and in the absence of universal medical insurance coverage in many African countries, the chronic care of SCD patients is therefore dependent on financial support and care-giving by family member. In addition, vaso-occlusive painful events, silent and overt stroke that occur in SCD could potentially contribute to functional limitations and poor academic achievement of affected children.

Indeed, it was reported in Cameroon that up to 37.5% of participants’ SCD-affected children had mild-to-severe cognitive deficits, and there was a significant effect on executive functions and attention]. Poor health status of children with SCD could also reduce caregivers’ employability and worsen the socioeconomic burden on families. Indeed up to 24.3% of caregivers in the USA missed two or more days of work per 3 days-hospital admission of their children and the morbidity of a painful event continued after discharge from hospital. Similar findings were also recently reported in Cameroon.

The mortality rate associated with SCD has remained high in Africa, despite the use of appropriate interventions to manage the various forms of crises. In the USA and Europe, who together account for less than 8% of the global disease burden of SCD, new-born screening, pneumococcal immunization, prophylactic penicillin and most importantly HU treatment, have decreased morbidity and mortality and thus increasing survival rates from childhood diagnoses to over 95%. In stark contrast, as of 2010, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 75.5% of the global number of new-borns with SCD, where most of these children die before age 5 due to a myriad of socio-economic factors and a poor public healthcare system.

The limited early detection and treatment initiatives that have been implemented in Africa result in high death rates before the age of 5. These statistics highlight the imperative necessity of research and translational medicine in to improve the burden through better care and potentially a cure of SCD in Africa.

Given all this, it is hope that with the discovery of the Drepanovax (which requires just one  glass to drink 2 times per day, during the meal) the situation will be brought under control as Raphael Nitcheu vaccine will go a long way to stop the spread of the disease.

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