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Controlling sickle cell disease in Ghana ethics and options

AK Edwin
F Edwin
V Etwire


Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is a significant public health burden in Ghana. Recent studies indicate that 2% of Ghanaian newborns are affected by SCD; one in three Ghanaians has the hemoglobin S and/or C gene. As a means of controlling the disease, some authorities have recommended prenatal diagnosis (PND) and selective abortion. In the current era, SCD has a good prognosis and fairly reasonable quality of life. Advances in bone marrow transplantation have shown the disease is curable in selected patients. PND and selective abortion therefore raises a myriad of ethical dilemmas which are considered in this review. In the light of the demonstration of improved prognosis in recent times, PND and selective abortion appears to be applying capital punishment to the unborn child for “crimes” only the parents can be responsible for. In this review, we recommend control of SCD on three levels – preconception genetic testing and strategic reproductive choices, PND and education for carrier parents, and holistic management of persons with SCD. We emphasize the critical importance of self-management, especially self-awareness, in assuring a good quality of life for persons with SCD. We believe such an approach is cost-effective, and consistent with sound ethical principles and good conscience.

Key words: Ethics, sickle cell disease, prenatal diagnosis, selective abortion, options.

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eISSN: 1937-8688