In the first year, the NHF will spend $211 million on sickle cell disease, and its addition to the programme brings to 16 the number of chronic illnesses covered by the fund.
"This historical moment is significant for persons who live with sickle cell disease, their caregivers and other loved ones as their burden is lessened in accessing medication that will help alleviate myriad acute complications," Dr Ferguson told yesterday morning's function at the New Kingston Conference Centre to announce the new benefit.
"In the health sector we, too, find the moment significant because what we are in fact achieving through this initiative is the provision of greater accessibility to health care for an extended number of persons who have a chronic illness."
Sickle cell is an inherited disorder that affects one in every 150 births locally.
Robert Gordon, whose son Roshawn has the disease and was yesterday presented with his NHF card, said he was grateful he would now be able to get assistance with purchasing his medication.
"It is not easy as a parent; it is very hard," he told the Jamaica Observer. "He got a stroke when he was five and they put him on hydroxyurea after that, so it is quite expensive.
"And he has to do physiotherapy and stuff; this will help a whole lot," Gordon said, adding that on average he spends $12,000 per month for Roshawn's medical needs.
Now, people with sickle cell disease will be able to access 18 drugs that are more commonly prescribed for the control of acute complications, 16 of which are already covered on the NHF programme. Hydroxyurea and morphine are the two additional active pharmaceutical ingredients that beneficiaries will be able to access.
Meanwhile, chief executive officer of the NHF Everton Anderson said if people are applying for NHF cards for the first time they will need to use the yellow application form which must be signed by their doctor.
"For existing NHF card holders, you will need to use the blue change form to add sickle cell disease to your benefit package from NHF. This form must also be signed by your doctor," he said.
Anderson said that once applications are properly completed, applicants who visit their Dominica Drive, Kingston 5 head offices only have to wait 15 minutes to receive their NHF card.
Sickle cell disease is a condition that affects all ages, and symptoms, which can be life-threatening and quite often lead to hospitalisation, can manifest themselves as early as four months. People with sickle cell disease are at risk for complications such as recurrent painful crises, neurological problems (stroke, seizures), respiratory distress, vision impairment, leg ulcers, renal complications, abdominal pain, and anaemia.
Sickle-cell disease, also known as sickle-cell anaemia, is a hereditary blood disorder, characterised by an abnormality in the oxygen-carrying haemoglobin molecule in red blood cells.
This leads to a propensity for the cells to assume an abnormal, rigid, sickle-like shape under certain circumstances. Sickle-cell disease is associated with a number of acute and chronic health problems, such as severe infections, attacks of severe pain (sickle-cell crisis), and stroke, and there is an increased risk of death.
For more information on accessing SCD benefits, persons are advised to call the NHF customer service centre at 906-1106 or 1-888-342-5643.
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