Document Type



Paediatrics and Child Health (East Africa)


Background: Children with sickle cell anemia (SCA) are highly susceptible to stroke and other manifestations of pediatric cerebral vasculopathy. Detailed evaluations in sub-Saharan Africa are limited.

Methods: We aimed to establish the frequency and types of pediatric brain injury in a cross-sectional study at a large SCA clinic in Kampala, Uganda in a randomly selected sample of 265 patients with HbSS ages 1–12 years. Brain injury was defined as one or more abnormality on standardized testing: neurocognitive impairment using an age-appropriate test battery, prior stroke by examination or transcranial Doppler (TCD) velocities associated with stroke risk in children with SCA (cerebral arterial time averaged mean maximum velocity ≥ 170 cm/second).

Results: Mean age was 5.5 ± 2.9 years; 52.3% were male. Mean hemoglobin was 7.3 ± 1.01 g/dl; 76.4% had hemoglobin < 8.0 g/dl. Using established international standards, 14.7% were malnourished, and was more common in children ages 5–12. Overall, 57 (21.5%) subjects had one to three abnormal primary testing. Neurocognitive dysfunction was found in 27, while prior stroke was detected in 15 (5.7%). The most frequent abnormality was elevated TCD velocity 43 (18.1%), of which five (2.1%) were in the highest velocity range of abnormal. Only impaired neurocognitive dysfunction increased with age (OR 1.44, 95%CI 1.23–1.68), p < 0.001). In univariate models, malnutrition defined as wasting (weight-for-height ≤ −2SD), but not sex or hemoglobin, was modestly related to elevated TCD (OR 1.37, 95%CI 1.01–1.86, p = 0.04). In adjusted models, neurocognitive dysfunction was strongly related to prior stroke (OR 6.88, 95%CI 1.95–24.3, p = .003) and to abnormal TCD (OR 4.37, 95%CI 1.30, p = 0.02). In a subset of 81 subjects who were enriched for other abnormal results, magnetic resonance imaging and angiography (MRI/MRA) detected infarcts and/or arterial stenosis in 52%. Thirteen subjects (25%) with abnormal imaging had no other abnormalities detected.

Conclusions: The high frequency of neurocognitive impairment or other abnormal results describes a large burden of pediatric SCA brain disease in Uganda. Evaluation by any single modality would have underestimated the impact of SCA. Testing the impact of hydroxyurea or other available disease-modifying interventions for reducing or preventing SCA brain effects is warranted.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.

Publication (Name of Journal)

BMC Pediatrics


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.