Hydroxyurea is a successful and cost effective drug therapy for sickle cell disease. Treatment with hydroxyurea is associated with a significant decrease in sickle cell complications, hospitalizations and transfusion requirements by about 50% and mortality reduction by 40% in clinical studies. The drug is unfortunately underutilized in sickle cell disease in the United States despite clear efficacy data and management experience. There is no data on the utilization of hydroxyurea in Africa, a part of the world with the highest global burden of sickle cell disease. We prospectively interviewed 206 consecutive adults and pediatric sickle cell patients as part of the Nigerian pulmonary hypertension screening study and reviewed over 1000 patients followed longitudinally at Ahmadu Bello university teaching hospital in Zaria, Nigeria. We also interviewed 10 hematologists (3 specialists and 7 hematologists in training) at the same university hospital. 65% of the 206 prospectively evaluated patients met the Multicenter Study of Hydroxyurea clinical indications for hydroxyurea treatment. No patient (zero percent) was on hydroxyurea therapy. All hematologists (100%) reported their discomfort with instituting hudroxyurea. Barriers to hydroxyurea utilization identified by practitioners included safety and toxicity profile (100%), patient compliance (100%), effective follow up (100%), drug availability (100%), affordability (100%) and specifically concern for reactivation of latent tuberculosis (50%) and carcinogenesis (100%) and teratogenicity (100%). Only 5% of patients had been informed of or were aware of hydroxyurea as a treatment option in sickle cell disease. Patient related barriers to hydroxyurea identified include lack of awareness (95%), cost (100%), availability (100%), need for frequent follow up (90%), pregnancy restrictions and need for concomitant contraceptive use (98%) and risk of infections (98%). Our study indicates the absolute lack of hydroxyurea utilization in a major health care center in Nigeria. Nigeria has the highest incidence of sickle cell disease in the world with about 150,000 children born with the disease annually. Sickle cell disease accounts for about 9 –16% of under-five mortality rates in the country. The sickle cell disease related morbidity, mortality and health systems financial burden remains very high in Nigeria and most of Africa. Local health care provider education and support and patient counseling and education are needed for the successful introduction of hydroxyurea in Nigeria. Clinical studies designed to assess the safety and efficacy of hydroxyurea in unique African settings is needed to facilitate the introduction and utilization of hydroxyurea in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.
Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.