Nigeria has neglected one of the most disturbing health problems, unknown to many that are yet to be affected even though they are affected directly or indirectly. How can we neglect what has been claiming the lives of children and adults, breaking families, financially tormenting households and emotionally destabilizing its survivors?
Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is an inherited blood disorder that affects red blood cells. People with SCD have red blood cells that contain mostly Hemoglobin S, an abnormal type of hemoglobin. Sometimes these red blood cells become sickle-shaped (crescent shaped) and have difficulty passing through small blood vessels. When sickle-shaped cells block small blood vessels, less blood reaches that part of the body. Tissue that does not receive a normal blood flow eventually becomes damaged. This is what causes the complications in SCD. There is currently no universal cure for SCD.
Sickle cells are destroyed rapidly in the body of people with the disease causing anemia, jaundice and the formation of gallstones. The sickle cells also block the flow of blood through vessels resulting in lung tissue damage (acute chest syndrome), pain episodes (arms, legs, chest and abdomen), stroke and priapism (painful prolonged erection). It also causes damage to most organs including the spleen, kidneys and liver.
Sickle cell patients and their families go through a lot, most of which the persons with sickle cell themselves feel like they are a burden to their family, most of which become emotionally unstable and to make matters worse face stigma from the society. In the north here especially Kano State, there is high increase in the number of sickle cell patients which result from lack of knowledge of the disease and premarital testing. For example in Hasiya Bayero Pediatric Hospital 150 new cases of children with sickle cell are diagnosed every week on average, ie approximately 600 every month and 7,200 every year only in one hospital. Imagine how many children are born with SCD in Kano State?
President Buhari has a soft spot for Persons with Sickle Cell, a member of the Sickle Cell Community Forum, a Facebook Page informed me that President Buhari is a carrier of the Sickle Cell Trait. I interviewed fellow persons with sickle cell about “what will you want President Buhari to do for you as a person with sickle cell” and the answers are as follows:
- Build a clinic just for person with sickle cell
- Make treatment and drugs free for persons with sickle cell
- Establish genetic counseling centers for awareness of premarital testing
- Establish recreational centers for persons with sickle cell
- Establish Vocational centers for persons with sickle cell
- Make sports for persons with sickle cell available
- Provide educational scholarships for persons with sickle cell to further their studies
- Ensure mandatory premarital testing for Sickle Cell
I will like President Buhari to look into these appeals from the persons with sickle cell, and make effort in seeing that their lives are improved. Sickle cell affects almost all the organs in the body and it is almost all the time acute therefore persons with sickle cell have been silently fighting everyday of their lives, struggling to survive and always trying to be strong to fit in.
Asmau Ahmad is Young Microbiologist based in Kano, Nigeria and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org