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Health & Science

Houston Docs Will Target Sickle Cell Disease in Africa

For the last 15 years, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital have operated dozens of clinics across Africa to treat children with HIV or AIDS. Now they’re expanding to treat other childhood diseases, like sickle cell anemia. KUHF health science and technology reporter Carrie Feibel has more.


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The Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative has been a big success. This network of clinics currently treats about 80,000 HIV positive children.

Dr. Russell Ware
Dr. Russell Ware, a sickle-cell expert, left Memphis to become the new director of the Texas Children’s Center for Global Health.

“We see many, many children with sickle cell disease, but we did not have the usual therapies that are available in the United States to offer them.” Sickle cell anemia is an inherited disease of the red blood cells. It’s more common among people of African, Indian or Mediterranean descent. If untreated, the death rate among young children can be as high as 90 or 95 percent.

“I called it an invisible disease in Africa, it’s more than neglected. It’s not even on the radar screen of most health programs.”

That’s Dr. Russell Ware. He’ll direct the new program, called the Texas Children’s Center for Global Health.

The first pilot program will take place in Angola. Chevron, which has a big presence in Angola, has donated $4 million to help start it. The idea is to help Angolans set up universal screening of all newborns, like in the U.S.

Ware says this isn’t about testing new drugs, or doing cutting-edge research, or even following the latest trend in medical philanthropy.

“Children in Africa are not dying for lack of research; they’re dying for lack of care and treatment. And so we know what to do for these children, we know what we can provide to make it more like Western medicine. What we need to do is identify the babies and offer them the treatment that they need.”

Sickle cell screening could begin as early as this summer in Angola’s capital.

From the KUHF Health Science and Technology Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.

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