Fellow Deltans, today is World Sickle Cell Day!
It is a day established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2008 in its 63rd Session. That establishment formally declared Sickle Cell Disorder also referred to as SCD a public health problem and one of the world’s foremost genetic diseases. The Day is meant to create awareness about the disease, early diagnosis and appropriate management. It was first celebrated on 19th June, 2009.
For the sake of clarity, Sickle Cell Disorder is a genetic health problem prevalent among children of Black Africa, the Caribbean and Asian descent. Statistics show that worldwide, Nigeria has the highest incidents of sickle cell disorder with one in every four Nigerians (25%) having the sickle cell trait. Being a genetic disorder, it is a burden that has proved difficult to curtail unlike those of acquired diseases where governments at various levels in the country have achieved a measure of success in their control.
This is so for obvious reasons as several challenges are faced due to ethical, religious and ethnic issues with respect to genetic counseling and genetic planning. People are apprehensive of genetic programmes and are still very ignorant on the use of genotype and its relevance. Poverty and lack of appropriate knowledge have been identified as key factors responsible for the high death rate among sickle cell sufferers. Several of our mothers and sister particularly in the rural areas get into marriage not aware of genotype test.
Many lacked the financial means to check their genotype. When their children are born with SCD, they resort to quacks for solutions. This often results in serious consequences which are usually grave indeed, thus inundating our medical and nursing personnel in the hospitals with mismanaged cases several of which would have been managed by just simple treatment.
Considering the many challenges associated with the disorder, I believe the theme for this year’s celebration, ‘ Bone Marrow Transplant … could not have come at a better time. The theme represents a reassuring hope that succor for lasting cure for sufferers of sickle cell disorder is in sight. The theme is also a wakeup call to intensify efforts at preventive and appropriate management for sickle cell disorder. This is why it must be noted that managing the disorder requires a broad base education for medical and health personnel, caregiver, traditional leaders and policy makers on the need for prevention and research as well as resources to minimize complications arising from sickle cell disorder.
It is however pertinent to mention that His Excellency, the Governor, Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa has introduced the State Health Insurance Scheme as part of his SMART agenda. This is to enable accessibility and treatment of various health conditions faced by those affected sickle cell disorder. This means poverty is no longer a serious barrier to accessing qualitative medical care.
Also, the Ministry of Health has facilitated the establishment of 15 new sickle cell clinics in both public and private health facilities spread across the three senatorial districts of the State. Our goal is simple; to have functioning sickle cell clinics and clubs in every local government area in the state to give needful counseling and proper management of patients. This, in our assessment will contribute to reducing the incidence of new cases of SCD and ensuring that those who have the condition live a normal life span.
It is in this regard that special commendation must be made on the activities of the ‘O 5 Initiative’, an interventionist programme of Her Excellency, Dame Edith Okowa, wife of the State Governor, aimed at bringing succor to sufferers of the disorder. Her efforts through the O5 Initiative have successful brought about the establishments of four (4) fully equipped Sickle Cell Clinics in the State in the Central Hospitals in Sapele, Agbor, Ughelli and Oleh.
Already, the programme has secured a block of building at the ongoing construction of Central Hospital, Asaba to establish Sickle Cell Centre to make Delta the third State to have such Centre where advance treatment and researches on the disorder will be done.
No doubt, efforts like this have contributed to improving our hospitals records which seem to suggest that there has been an increase in the number of children living with the sickle cell disorder visiting our clinics for care. This increase may have been due to improvement in the degree to the attention given to the disorder, and in the increase in the number of surviving children from the disease. However, mortality and morbidity among those children from crises remain significant and deserve increased attention from all. This is where all stakeholders need to do more in keeping hope alive for sickle cell disorder sufferers or clients.
While we are earnestly hoping that the new technology of bone marrow transplant as well as the new born screening for sickle cell disorder and pneumococcal vaccines would provide the cure for the disorder, the Ministry would continue to intensify efforts at empowering existing sickle cell clinics and clubs to spread awareness on preventing new cases of SCD and strengthen our capacity at ensuring proper management of sickle cell clients.
At this juncture, I wish to appreciate the MTN Foundation that has collaborated with the Sickle Cell Foundation, Nigeria to provide free drugs for patients with SCD in Delta State. It is heartwarming that over 2,000 SCD patients have benefited so far from the Foundation’s benevolence. I also appreciate the various sickle cell clubs in the State, counselors, caregivers and all those who have laboured ceaselessly to give these people a good lease of life.
I thank you all for the audience and God bless you.