In sickle cell anaemia, red blood cells shaped like sickles, or crescent moons, can get stuck in small blood vessels around the body, blocking the flow of blood and oxygen.
The number of newborns with the disease is likely to increase from about 305 800 in 2010 to about 404 200 in 2050, researchers determined, using estimated country rates of sickle cell anaemia and information on projected birth rates.
Newborns in India, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo accounted for 57% of all babies worldwide born with sickle cell anaemia in 2010 and this proportion will likely increase by 2050.
Universal screening programs could save the lives of nearly 10 million newborns with sickle cell anaemia worldwide, including 85% of those expected to be born in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the authors of the study in the current issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.
Implementing basic health services for sickle cell anaemia – such as newborn screening and vaccination – by 2015 could increase survival of more than five million newborns with the disease by 2050, according to a news release.
In the United States, sickle cell anaemia affects 70 000 to 100 000 people, mostly African-Americans, according to the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
The new study "confirms that the global burden of [sickle cell anaemia] is increasing, and highlights the need to develop specific national policies for appropriate public health planning, particularly in low- and middle-income countries," wrote Frederic Piel and colleagues from the University of Oxford and Imperial College in England, and the KEMRI/Wellcome Trust Research Program in Kenya.
The findings "underscore the need for both collaborative responses and better data for planning and monitoring," David Osrin and Edward Fottrell, of the UCL Institute of Child Health in London, wrote in an accompanying editorial.
The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about sickle cell anaemia.