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Background: β-thalassemia is rare in sub-Saharan Africa and to our knowledge there has been no case of homozygous β-thalassemia major reported from this region. In a recent cohort study, we identified four β-thalassemia mutations among 83 heterozygous carriers in Kilifi, Kenya. One of the mutations identified was a rare β-globin gene initiation codon mutation (ATG➝ACG) (rs33941849). Here we present a patient with β-thalassemia major resulting from this mutation, only the second homozygous patient to have been reported.  Methods: The female patient presented to Kilifi County Hospital aged two years with a one week left sided abdominal swelling. Clinical, hematological and genetic information were collected at admission and follow-up.  Results: Admission bloods revealed marked anemia, with a hemoglobin (Hb) value of 6.6 g/dL and a low mean corpuscular volume of 64 fL. High performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) revealed the absence of HbA0 and elevated levels of HbF, suggesting a diagnosis of β-thalassemia major. Sequencing revealed that the child was homozygous for the rs33941849 initiation codon mutation.  Conclusions: We hope that this study will create awareness regarding the presence of β-thalassemia as a potential public health problem in the East Africa region and will prompt the development of local guidelines regarding the diagnosis and management of this condition.

Original publication




Journal article


Wellcome Open Res

Publication Date





East Africa, HbA2, rs33941849, sequencing, β-thalassemia major