Objectives: To evaluate the feasibility of a newborn screening and follow-up programme for sickle cell disease (SCD) among tribal populations of south Gujarat, India.
Methods: A total of 5467 newborn babies were screened over 2 years using High-performance liquid chromatography, with diagnosis by molecular analysis. The SCD babies were followed-up clinically and haematologically regularly for 1.5 to 5 years to describe the course of the disease.
Results: Thirty-three babies (0.60%) were sickle homozygous, 13 (0.23%) were-sickle-β-thalassaemia, 687 (12.5%) were sickle heterozygous, and 4736 were unaffected. The parents of SCD babies were educated and counselled for home care. There were 32 babies (69.5%) who could be clinically and haematologically followed-up; 7 babies (21.8%) presented with severe clinical complications, whereas 18 (56.2%) babies were asymptomatic till the last follow-up. The variation in clinical presentation was seen in spite of the presence of ameliorating factors, such as high fetal haemoglobin, Xmn-I polymorphism, and α-thalassaemia.
Conclusion: In addition to demonstrating the possibility of establishing a newborn screening programme for sickle cell disorders among tribal populations, this study has shown that the disease is not always mild among tribal groups in India, as previously believed. There is a need, therefore, for increasing awareness among these tribal groups about the disease, and for regular monitoring of affected babies to reduce morbidity and mortality and to understand the natural course of the disease.
Keywords: newborn screening; sickle cell disease; tribal population; western India.
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