Sickle Cell Disease is a debilitating disease of the Red Blood Cells, causing sickling of the blood cells which then become defective in carrying oxygen to blood tissues, as well as clogging capillaries with their of their defective shape. The lack of oxygen in the organs and clogged capillaries cause excruciating pain and eventually damages parts of the body like the Hip Joints, Kidneys, Eyes, Brain etc ...
Types of Red Blood Cells
Sickle Cell affects mostly people of Afro-Caribbean decent. There are also sufferers amongst the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Easterners.
Let’s talk numbers:
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 200,000 children are born with Sickle Cell Anaemia each year; 150, 000 to Nigerians (Sheyin, 2012). Up to 30 Million Nigerians have the Sickle Cell Trait.
Sickle-Cell is not an infectious disease, it is a Hereditary Disease. This gives us more clout to control the disease by applying our knowledge of the disease.
We all have a Genotype. These are the different antigens that make up the surface of our blood cells. NB: This differs from our Blood Groups — A, B, AB and O.
There are six Genotypes: AA, AS, AC, SS, SC, and CC. The genotype responsible for causing Sickle Cell is SS.
Being a recessive gene, both Parents have to be carriers of the ‘S’ gene to produce an offspring with Sickle Cell Disease.
Here’s a simple diagrammatic illustration:
This shows that if two Sickle Cell Carriers (AS) were to have children, there is a one in four chance that one of the children would suffer from Sickle Cell Disease, whilst two of them would be Carriers of the trait and one would be normal.
How do we tackle this disease?
By being realistic. We know the disease is perpetuated by Sickle-Cell Carriers having children.
First, know your Genotype. Go to a clinic or a laboratory and get tested.
Governments should make this test freely available to all students starting off in Secondary School, Higher Institutions, Universities and issue each person with a Genotype Card and Mobile Phone Wallet App. The Genotype Card could include their Blood Group and any other pertinent information.
We know LOVE can be blind, deaf and dumb, but do find out what your Partner-To-Be’s Genotype is, before you make babies.
If you are AS and Partner to Be is also AS, re-think the ‘Love’. Relationships are difficult enough without the added stress of a sick child, whose quality of life may by highly compromised because of Sickle Cell Disease. It is unfair on the child.
If you and your Partner are Carriers (AS) and you fall pregnant, you could take a Foetal Embryonic Test to determine the genotype of the foetus. If the foetus is SS, you might want to consider a Medical Termination.
Personally, I would not advice anyone to take the gamble on a child not being SS.
What can we do?
Awareness! Awareness! Awareness!
Knowledge! Knowledge! Knowledge!
Empowerment! Empowerment! Empowerment!
Ladies tend to bear up to 90% of the brunt of a sick child. Get smart. Get tested. If your Genotype is AS, do not be blinded or deafened, or dumbed by love, be realistic.
Before you start the relationship, ask for your Partner To Be’s Genotype. If he doesn’t know it, ask him to get tested. If he turns out to be AS or SS and you are either AS or SS, best not to go ahead with the relationship.
If you are AA, then you are safe to go ahead with the relationship and have babies, knowing none of your babies would be SS (a Sickler).
Foetal Genotype Test
If you choose to go ahead with the relationship and you get pregnant, get a Foetal Genotype Test. If the foetus is SS, it is advisable not to go ahead with the pregnancy.
Don’t be clouded by culture, religion, peer pressure etc. Be sensible. Be smart. It is your life. Life is tough enough without the added stress of a sick child.
Parents, arrange for your children to know their Genotypes. Find out what the Genotypes of their suitors are and encourage them to make intelligent decisions.
Increase awareness is schools. Teach Secondary School Students about Genotypes. Let them get tested and know their Genotypes. Let them be aware of the consequences of having a child with Sickle Cell Disease.
Religious organisations, NGOs, Academic Institutions, Medical Institutions, increase awareness amongst your clientele.
Offer Pre-marital Counselling to youngsters and let the counselling emphasise the importance of the couple knowing their Genotypes.
Make Genotype Testing freely available to all youngsters from age ten and issue them with a Genotype Card.
Let it become the norm to ask a potential suitor what their Genotype is, the same way you ask for their age and occupation.
Dating sites should add that question to their sites to encourage people to take the trouble to go and find out what their Genotype is.
Genotype Testing Centres, should make Genotype Testing affordable or included in packages for other tests carried out by your facility.
Government should make Genotype Testing a prerogative for all New Borns and for the Baby to be issued with the Genotype Card immediately.
We can certainly eradicate Sickle Cell Disease, if we choose to and make it a priority to eradicate it.
If all youngsters aged 15 to 45 get tested and know their Genotypes and couples with Genotypes:
choose to make more intelligent choices by choosing a partner who is AA or if pregnant, check that the fetus is not SS, SC or CC or not have any children, then no more children with Sickle Cell would be born.
Given about five years, the number of children born with Sickle Cell will drop significantly, till no more babies are born with Sickle Cell Disease.
Let’s act smart. This disease can be eradicated.
Genotype Testing Laboratories
For affordable Genotype Testing in Lagos, Nigeria, contact:
Jugrace Diagnostic Centre
39 Abibatu Street (Off Network Pole – By Fawole Junction) - Papa-Ashafa – Lagos State – Nigeria.
Tel: +234 703 503 7436 or +234 809 505 8250
For Genotype Testing in the UK contact:
Contact your GP.
For more information on Sickle Cell Disease, contact:
Sickle Cell Society on firstname.lastname@example.org
We will update this write with more Genotype Testing Labs.
Wishing you exellent health, wellness and abundance.
The Mede-Pod Team