With Nigeria still having the highest concentration of sickle cell sufferers in the world, a medical breakthrough such as the successful stem cell transplant by the University of Benin Teaching Hospital in Edo State is an option sufferers could be looking at in combating the life-threatening ailment.
Almost three years running since the Nigerian health sector recorded a major breakthrough in stem cell transplant to become the third in Africa after Egypt and South Africa to have a successful stem cell transplant where a sickle cell anemia patient can have the cells replaced with those free from the disease. Respite, however, came the way of sickle cell patients when a year later, the management of University of Benin Teaching Hospital(UBTH) completely drained infected red blood cells from a 27- year-old patient and replaced it with clean and uninfected red blood.
The feat recorded by the teaching hospital is, no doubt, a relief for victims of this debilitating disease following long years of painstaking medical research towards finding a solution to the scourge.
The chief medical director (CMD) of the hospital, Professor Michael Ibadin, while speaking on the breakthrough, explained that success was achieved through a collaboration with the University of Basel, Switzerland which provided the technical support and the machine identified as cobe spectra which would drain the blood through one arm and replace it through the other arm at the same time.
“The same department that championed the breakthrough in the stem cell transplant some two years ago is in the news again and we need them to share it with the members of the public. As adults, we have about six litres of blood in us. That blood is divided into two; one part is liquid and the other parts are cells. These cells are of different types- some are red, some are white while some are in other colours. The red blood cells are the ones that make the blood to have red colouration and the problem is located in that cell for those with the disease, especially victims who survive long enough. They may have major challenges like stroke which could affect the brain. Other parts of the body may also suffer along. But what we have achieved here is total replacement of the entire red blood cells in an individual who is alive and replace them completely with another type of cell”, he said.
Throwing more lights on the success story, the head of the team, Dr Nosakhare Bazuaye, who, before now, had undergone a one-year training in Switzerland, said Nigeria parades the highest number of sickle cell carriers in the world as he said about three per cent of Nigerians carry the disease in them.
“Total red cell change is the first in Nigeria. What we do is to remove the entire blood from the body through one arm and put in fresh blood through the other arm. When we do this total red cell exchange, we will remove the blood and it is replaced. The machine is such that it doesn’t cause much discomfort. As it takes away blood from one side, it is being replaced immediately from the other side. It is harmless and can also be done for children. We have successfully performed the first one for a 27-year-old patient who is a friend of the department. He is a Masters student in one of the universities and we feel he is also very important in pioneering this feat. He had severe crisis. When we removed almost five litres of blood from him, we replaced it with an equal amount. This stopped his pain and crisis and will relieve him for a long time. In Europe, some people do it twice a year”.
One had to be curious to ask how much each procedure costs. Bazuaye told LEADERSHIP Sunday that, “It is mainly the blood that is supplied because we use between 8 to 15 pints of blood depending on the size of the patient, but if we have donors, the patient is not going to pay more; all we will do is just screen the blood. However, if he or she doesn’t have donor and we have to buy blood, that is when it becomes expensive, so we encourage Nigerians to donate blood.
“Our patient was fortunate and privileged that all his friends and course mates came to donate blood for him. The machine and other parts are not too expensive and with that, the full therapy would not be more than N100,000. A patient could do that twice in a year without experiencing a crisis and you can compare that to the amount the patient will pay and the damage done to the system and organs”.
In a practical demonstration, the management of the hospital celebrated the successful stem cell transplant of seven-year-old Master Matthew Ndik after one hundred days in the state-of-the- art essential medical laboratory that assisted to perfect the feat.
The exercise has positioned the hospital as the first in Nigeria and second to South Africa to have proved ‘doubting Thomases’ wrong of the ability of the country’s medical institute to break such medical jinx.
At the centre of the first stem cell transplant event was a former sickle cell victim, Master Matthew Ndik, who had had two traumatic strokes leading to partial paralysis but was able to regain a normal life with an AA genotype after the successful medical experiment that cost the management of UBTH a whooping N6 million to get through the rigours of the professional feat.
The ceremony witnessed the coming together of ‘who is who’ in the society and a medical expert and former state chairman of the Nigeria Medical Association, Dr Dominic Osaghae, of the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital (ISTH) said Nigeria, as the populous nation in West Africa, Nigeria has the highest incidence of sickle cell problems.
Osaghae, however, urged the federal and state governments to rise to the challenge of confronting the menace headlong and to collaborate with the management of the UBTH in efforts towards bone marrow cell transplant.
According to him, “What has been achieved by UBTH is worthy of commendation and I urge the federal government and each of the 36 state governments to, at least, sponsor a sickle cell patient for the procedure just as the initiative has been shown by this hospital.
“Nigeria, today, has highest concentration of sickle cell sufferers in the whole world and measures should be taken to address the issue”, he advised.
Speaking also, the head of the medical team that carried out the exercise and seasoned haematologist, Dr Nosakhare Bazuaye, said UBTH called on the state government to support the laudable project aimed at saving the lives of millions of other patients suffering from the deadly and finance-draining sickness.
He particularly commended the parents of the patient, Mr. and Mrs.Ndik, for their patience and tolerance throughout the period the feat lasted.
He said: “If every state government can sponsor, at least, one sickle cell patient, we will have an average of 37 treated cases in a year”, he said, adding that the establishment of the stem cell transplant centre costs the hospital over N50 million.
The chairman of the occasion and brother of the Oba of Benin, who is also a former deputy vice chancellor (administration) of the University of Benin, Professor Gregory Akenzua, said the feat was a marvel to all and must be emulated by various arms of government and well meaning Nigerians.
The father of the patient, Mr Hyacinth Ndik, while speaking , painted a sordid picture of the pain and trauma the family passed through which he said was not expected of anybody. He gives all thanks to God and the UBTH management for the assistance that saved his son.
It would be recalled that young Matthew Ndik was given a chance at living a pain-free life through the extraction of the matching cell of his brother, Emmanuel Ndik. The Ndik family is from Calabar in Cross River State in the South-South geo political zone of Nigeria.