Third Eye

Hidden hurdles in battle against sickle cell anaemia

Tuesday, June 21st, 2022 06:40 | By
A vaccination drive against sickle cell anemia. The ailment causes recurrent pain and complications, affecting one’s psycho-social development. PD/file

Migration and inter-marriages in Kenya are fuelling the spread of sickle cell anemia —  a health condition prevalent in three malaria-endemic regions.

The Ministry of Health’s Chief Administrative Secretary, Dr Rashid Aman, while marking World Sickle Cell Anaemia Day on Friday, said other parts of Kenya, outside 18 endemic counties, were registering high rates of the disease.

“This ailment is common across Kenya, with a high burden in Western, Nyanza and Coastal regions. And with migration and intermarriages, the condition is being increasingly reported in other regions,” he said at a Nairobi hotel.

In Africa, at least 240,000 children are born each year with sickle cell disease, with Kenya among the most affected countries.

“An estimated 14,000 children are born in Kenya with sickle cell disease every year,” he said, adding that in the absence of routine screening and appropriate treatment, an estimated 50-90 per cent of infants with the condition die undiagnosed before their fifth year,” he said.

Echoing the sentiments, the head of the Department of Non-Communicable Diseases, Dr Elizabeth Onyango, said early screening, diagnosis and appropriate medical intervention can prevent up to 70 per cent of the deaths of 14,000 infants born with the disease.

“We all have a part to play in lessening the burden of people living with sickle cell disease, and that of their families,” said Onyango .

The ailment causes recurrent pain and complications, affecting the patient’s psycho-social development. It has major social and economic implications on families.

Collective efforts

In recognition of the plight of patients, the United Nations established World Sickle Cell Day 14 years ago to raise awareness on the ailment. This year’s theme is: “Screen and Care for Sickle Cell Disease: Tambua Hali Yako”. It reaffirms the need for collective efforts to address the disease, said Aman.

“Let’s first recognise the Sickle Cell Warriors. This is a day to celebrate and honour you, as we reflect on how to accelerate control and interventions on the disease,” he said.

This year’s theme, he noted, resonated with efforts of the Ministry of Health — working closely with county governments, sickle cell warriors, private institutions, civil society and other stakeholders — to ensure early identification of sickle cell warriors.

He said the government is committed to achieving Universal Healthcare Coverage, which is part of Vision 2030, and which includes sickle cell care.

The Ministry has established a National Multi-sectoral and Multi-Stakeholder Technical Working Group to address key thematic areas of sickle cell disease response — advocacy and screening, diagnosis; care and treatment; data aggregation; surveillance and research.

In April this year, the mational government and Kakamega County came together to address increasing cases of haemophilia and sickle cell diseases.

The Kenya Haemophilia Association, with the support of Novo Nordisk Haemophilia Foundation, World Federation of Hemophilia, Kenyatta National Hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, committed to scale up efforts to reduce the burden of these diseases.

The goals include demystifying myths associating the disease with witchcraft. A health clinic for sickle cell treatment was unveiled at Kakamega General Hospital.

Bungoma Governor’s wife, Caroline Wangamati, commended the Health Ministry for spreading awareness on the disease and investing medical equipment for screening and treatment.

“It is important for counties to take the lead. With a bit of prioritisation, and more lobbying from the affected communities, caregivers and sickle cell warriors, we can all do more,” she said.

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