As the World Sickle Cell Day (WSCD) in 2023 is observed globally. Health professionals and stakeholders agree that genetic counseling and genotype screening for prospective couples are essential to lowering the rising proportion of newborns in Nigeria with sickle cell disease (SCD).
The experts added that bone transplantation, a SCD treatment, might aid in the eradication of the illness in the nation.
Dr. Annette Akinsete, a consultant public health physician and the National Director/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Sickle Cell Foundation Nigeria, Idi-Araba, Lagos, stated that approximately 150,000 babies with sickle cell disorder are born in Nigeria each year, with at least 100,000 of these children dying before they turned five.
She claimed that it is essential to continuously raise awareness about the condition because she believed that sickle cell deaths are preventable because the victims’ deaths were the result of their parents’ ignorance.
She noted that Nigeria has drawn up policies on SCD in line with the United Nations directives that national governments should take action to prevent SCD.
Dr Akinsete said that the country should make concerted efforts on directions and guidelines to fund SCD control. She explained that once the government does the needful, Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other relevant stakeholders would rally to support the government’s efforts in combating sickle cell.
She explained what the Sickle Cell nonprofit does, saying that the nonprofit conducts SCD screening for moms and unborn newborns to determine their status. She revealed that the charity also provides free drugs to sickle cell patients, albeit this has not been easy because drugs for sickle cell treatment are pricey. It is for this reason that she proposed that the government subsidize free drugs for patients in order to alleviate the strain on parents and relatives of sickle cell patients.
Consultant Hematologist at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, Lagos, Dr Oluwatosin Adeyemi, said that about 50 million people are living with SCD globally and Nigeria is the epicentre with about four to six million people living with the disease. He added that one in every four Nigerians has a sickle cell trait.
Adeyemi explained that annually, about 300,000 newly diagnosed SCD children are born worldwide while sub-Saharan Africa contributes about 75 per cent of the number. She also said that Nigeria accounts for 100,000 to150,000 newborns living with SCD annually, 33 per cent of the global burden of SCD.
He underscored the need to improve the quality of life, access to specialised care for the patient, as well as access to disease-modifying agents like hydroxyurea, crizanlizumab among others.
Chairman, of Sickle Cell Foundation Nigeria, Tunde Afolabi, said that World Sickle Cell Day is a day set aside to raise awareness about all aspects of the disease. With Nigeria having the highest burden of sickle cell in the world, he said that the Sickle Cell Foundation works across the entire spectrum of research, prevention, treatment, care and even cure for sickle cell because the foundation was established in 1994 to address gaps that were evident in the control of sickle cell in Nigeria. He said that the foundation, over the years, has been providing free or highly subsidised services to persons living with sickle cell in Nigeria at its iconic National Sickle Centre, the first of its kind in Africa.
As part of his efforts to halt the disease and help sickle cell patients live better, he said the foundation has established a bone marrow transplant centre in Lagos in partnership with LUTH and the Vanderbilt, University Medical Centre Nashville, Tennesse USA with support from Lagos State government and charitable individuals. He also said the foundation is also championing mini-blood donation to encourage voluntary blood donation to save lives generally, especially persons living with sickle cell.