World Sickle Cell Day: Why disease remains endemic in Nigeria

Medical doctors used to illustrate the story [Photo Credit: Medicalworld Nigeria]
Medical doctors used to illustrate the story [Photo Credit: Medicalworld Nigeria]

As Nigeria joins the rest of the world today to celebrate World Sickle Cell Awareness Day, thousands of the country’s citizens are still under the clutches of the deadly disease.

According to experts, the disease remains endemic in the country due to lack of proper awareness, funds and government policies.

Sickle cell anaemia is an inherited form of anaemia — a condition in which there are not enough healthy red blood cells to transport adequate oxygen throughout the body.

Since 2008, World Sickle Cell Awareness Day has been held annually, in order to help increase public knowledge and raise awareness of Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) and the struggles sufferers and their families go through.

The date June 19 was chosen to commemorate the day on which a resolution was officially adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, recognising SCD as a public health concern.

Nigeria has the highest burden of Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) in the world and is also the top sickle cell endemic country in Africa, with an annual infant death of about 150,000 representing more than 8 per cent of infant mortality in the country.

At least 100,000 babies die from the disorder in Nigeria every year according to 2014 statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO), making it the number one sickle-cell endemic country in Africa.

Alayo Sopekan, the National Desk Officer on Sickle Cell at the Ministry of Health, said at an event earlier this year that lack of funds stalled the Federal Government’s policy of testing every newborn.

Lack of awareness is also a major challenge, Smith Olufemi, a pathologist, told PREMIUM TIMES.

“We have prevalence of 20 per cent of sickle cell disease in Nigeria. The major issue is that a lot of couples still don’t check their genotype status before marriage. The awareness is very low. The social welfare of sickle patients is not encouraging. They don’t have access to quality health care which results to complications,” Mr Olufemi said.

He said the government has a role to play to make sure sufferers access quality care.

Quick Facts About Sickle Cell Disease

Nigeria is the country with the highest burden of sickle cell disorder in the world.

Over 150,000 babies are born each year with sickle cell anemia in Nigeria.

Over 40 million Nigerians are carriers of the sickle cell gene.

People with sickle cell usually suffer severe pain.

Children with sickle cell can get stroke – which could be fatal and which could leave them paralysed for life.

People with sickle cell sometimes suffer a breakdown or degeneration of the hip joint/bones and end up unable to walk.

Persons with sickle cell tend to suffer extensive, chronic leg ulcers or sores that cause them much debilitation and social isolation.

Socially, they suffer stigma and discrimination.

Bone Marrow Transplantation (BMT) is a cure for sickle cell, but it is not widely accessible and not everyone with sickle cell is a suitable candidate.

Tips For Managing Sickle Cell Disease

High fluid intake;

Healthy diet;

Folic Acid supplementation;

Pain medication;

Vaccination and antibiotics for the prevention and treatment of infections;

A number of other therapeutic measures.


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