Zimbabwean Scientists Discover Rare Disease That Affects Only Black People

ZIMBABWEAN scientists working in collaboration with their counterparts at the University of Edinburgh (UK) have discovered a rare disease – systematic lupus erythematosus – that affects mainly black people.

Zimbabwean Scientists Discover Rare Disease That Affects Only Black People

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a complex chronic autoimmune disease that can affect multiple organs, including the skin, joints, hematopoietic system, kidneys, lungs and the central nervous system.

Previous studies report differences in the prevalence and severity of SLE in different ethnic groups.

SLE-associated mortality in Black American patients is 24 percent, compared with five percent among Asians with comparable demographic and clinical features.

SLE diagnosis in Africa remains challenging and true disease and mortality rates are unknown.

Treatment is often complicated by side effects, so accurate, and early diagnosis (which can be facilitated by characterising autoantibody reactivity) is key to successful disease management.

In a statement to our Harare Bureau, the scientists said the discovery of lupus could help manage the disease in African patients.

Professor Francisca Mutapi of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, a Zimbabwean who led the study, said: “For the first time, we have highlighted the importance of two variants of systemic lupus that affect black Africans, including one which was previously not defined in detail.

“Thanks to our research, we also have the means to diagnose and distinguish them.”

Professor Elopy Sibanda, of the Asthma, Allergy and Immunology Clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe, who led the clinical aspects of the study, said: “These findings will be valuable in diagnosing SLE in affected patients.

It is currently difficult to diagnose lupus erythematosus, as many symptoms overlap with those of other locally prevalent conditions, including HIV.”


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