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Objectives: To review the history of newborn screening for sickle cell disease with especial reference to Jamaica. Methods: A summary was done of the history, the development of associated laboratory technology and the implementation of newborn screening for sickle cell disease in Jamaica. Results: Screening was initiated at Victoria Jubilee Hospital, Kingston from 1973-1981, reactivated in 1995 and extended to the University Hospital of the West Indies in 1997 and to Spanish Town Hospital in 1998. From August 2008, there was a progressive recruitment of 12 hospitals in the south and west of Jamaica which has raised the frequency of islandwide newborn coverage from 25% in 1973 to 81%. The results of this extended programme in southwest Jamaica are presented. Dried blood spots collected from the umbilical cord proved stable, cheap and efficient; mean sample collection rates were 98%, maternal contamination occurred in < 1% and caused diagnostic confusion in < 0.1%. By March 31, 2015, a total of 54 566 births have been screened, detecting 161 with homozygous sickle cell (SS) disease, 125 with sickle cell-haemoglobin C (SC) disease and 36 with sickle cell-beta thalassaemia. Of the 327 babies with clinically significant sickle cell syndromes, all except five who died within seven days of birth were confirmed by four to six weeks and recruited to local sickle cell clinics. Conclusion: Early detection of sickle cell disease and recruitment to clinics is known to reduce its morbidity and mortality. The methods currently detailed provide an effective and economic model of newborn screening which may be of value elsewhere.

Original publication




Journal article


West Indian Med J

Publication Date





18 - 26


Caribbean, Jamaica, newborn screening, sickle cell disease