By Ssebandeke Ashiraf
Researchers from Mulago Hospital in Kampala Uganda have made a discovery in the use of hydroxyurea. According to the research results, it was found out that hydroxyurea is safe for use in malaria endemic countries without worsening malaria, despite the area studies which had recommended it for use only in Malaria free areas. This was revealed on 28th February 2018 at Hotel Africana in kampala during the release of the results of the study titled “Novel use of Hydroxyurea in an African Region with malaria (NOHARM), a trial for children with sickle cell. The double blinded placebo controlled trial was carried on 203 children with sickle cell between the ages of 1 to 4 years at Mulago Hospital Sickle cell clinic in Kampala. It was conducted between May 2014 and November 2017.
According to Dr Phillip Kasirye a member of the research team and head of sickle cell clinic at Mulago Hospital the purpose of the trial was to understand whether hydroxyurea was safe to use in malaria endemic areas.
Sickle cell is still a serious problem in Uganda. According to Charles Kiyaga the National Coordinator of Early Infant Diagnosis at the Ministry of Health 20,000 babies are born with sickle cell annually in Uganda and 70 – 80 percent die below 5 years. One of the leading causes of death among children with sickle cell in poor health management.
Dr Opoka Robert the lead researcher said that the results of NOHARM is the new hope and can be a solution to ending high mortality rate among children with sickle cell. He added that Hydroxyurea treatment appears safe for children with sickle cell in malaria endemic Sub Saharan Africa without increased malaria and infection cases.
The positive results from the survey prompted the Uganda’s Minister of Health Hon. Jane Ruth Achieng to direct National Drug Authority (NDA) a body mandated to register drugs to register hydroxyurea as a drug for sickle cell in a period of less than 3 months.
She also testified about the efficacy of hydroxyurea on the two girls with sickle cell she takes care at her home.
Despite the drug being on Uganda market and openly accessed by sickle cell patients it has not been registered as drug to use for sickle cell patients. It has been used by many without doctor’s prescription and monitoring leaving them with side effects including death.
According to Dr Opoka all children enrolled for the trial received malaria prophylaxis, bed nets and in case of malaria there were handled immediately. This left many questions from the attendees who asked whether the results will be the same for children who will use hydroxyurea without getting the same attention and care.