On Sunday June 19,2016, the international community will be marking the World Sickle Cell Day. It is a day set aside to help increase public knowledge and raise awareness of Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) and the struggles sufferers and their families go through. It will be recalled that the date was chosen to commemorate the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution officially recognising Sickle Cell disease as a public Health concern. Sickle Cell Disease affects millions of people around the world, including both adults and children.
According to the World Health Organisation(WHO), SCD is a potentially fatal disease and one of the main causes of premature death amongst children under the age of five in various developing countries ,including Nigeria. Sickle Cell disease is an inherited blood disorder in which the body produces abnormally shaped red blood cells. In sickle cell disease, the hemoglobin in red blood cells clumps together. This causes red blood cells to become stiff and C-shaped. As these sickle cells block blood and oxygen flow in blood vessels, they break down more rapidly than normal red blood cells, which result in anemia.
Research shows that sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder. Those with the disease are born with two sickle cell genes, one from each parent. Incidentally, report shows that more that 40 million Nigerians suffer from Sickle Cell Disease, making it the country with the highest sufferers in the world. Pathetic is the fact that, only 5 per cent of the children live past the age of 10 in Nigeria as compared to more than 96 per cent surviving into adulthood in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Sadly, the devastating effect of the condition on victims and parents cannot be over emphasised. Aside the pains of the sufferers, families are often thrown into disarray, even as this has led to broken homes due to the emotional, psychological trauma and financial stress resulting from it.
Oftentimes, the survivors remain vulnerable to exacerbation of the disease as well as the recurrent pain and complications of the disease interfering with many aspects of the patient’s life- education, employment and psychological development. Fortunately, new research and treatment that is more aggressive have begun to change sickle cell disease from an inherited condition that often condemned children to painful and short lives into a condition that can be managed and has a better life expectancy.
This is because many people with the disease can live far longer due to early treatment with antibiotics, better pain management and especially the use of hydroxyurea. Even at this, we believe that the most effective way to curb ignorance surrounding Sickle Cell Disease is through an aggressive public sensitisation and enlightenment campaign.
Such information should include the fact that carriers should not marry AS or SS, as well as education about inheritable nature of the disease. Due to this, it is pertinent that policy makers enact a legislation making it compulsory for everybody to undergo genotype tests before marriage. In all, we urge the Buhari administration to create sickle cell management centres in the 774 local governments of the federation to reduce the pains and trauma experienced by the sufferers.