Peter Uzoho

Like every other couple, the birth of a child after several years of trying to have one comes with an unusual joy and grand celebration. The arrival of such babies mark the end of years of mockery, with its attendant pains and agony.

This was the case of Ayokunlemi’s parents, who had him after seven years of waiting.

“When we gave birth to him, the whole family was overjoyed. This was not surprising because my wife, Dupe and I, had to prayerfully wait for seven years before God finally blessed us with the fruit of the womb. Little wonder we named him Ayokunlemi meaning ‘Joy has come into our home,” Mr. Daniel Olakunle recounted

But, nine months into the life of Ayo, the balloon of the parents’ joy got punctured when he was diagnosed and confirmed a sickle cell patient. This was preceded by days of endless crying which was mistaken for his want for food due to lack of information about the signs associated with sickle cell anemia.

“However nine months later, Ayokunlemi had his first sickle cell crisis. He cried all evening and all night. We thought he was crying for food. His mother and myself did all we could to calm him, yet he cried endlessly. When his cry became unbearable, we decided to rush him to a nearby hospital.

“There, at the hospital, a screening test was conducted for him. Results later showed that Ayokunlemi has the sickle cell disorder. We were all in shock when the news broke. How sad! The doctors that evening also confirmed that he was having crisis on his foot and the required medical attention was given to him that day but ever since then, Ayokunlemi’s life has not remained the same,” he narrated.

Notwithstanding the unusual health condition of their son, the parents’ love for their symbol of joy has never diminished for one bit as they ensured they provided all physical and emotional support for him to survive. The love for the child and the quest to uncover how such situation can be managed led the father into intensive research.

“This love urged me to start an independent research on how to treat or better still, manage the crisis and it was during this research that I discovered that over 40 million Nigerians are healthy carriers of the sickle cell gene and over 150,000 children are born annually with sickle cell anaemia. It was so alarming,” he noted.

Meanwhile, in recognition of Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) as a major genetic disease in most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the WHO under the DNC Department, supervise and coordinate interventions relating to the prevention and management of SCD.
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According to the World Health body, “the sickle-cell trait is now known to be widespread, reaching its highest prevalence in parts of Africa as well as among people with origins in equatorial Africa, the Mediterranean basin and Saudi Arabia.” It said in Africa, the highest prevalence of sickle-cell trait occurs between latitudes 15° North and 20° South, ranging between 10 and 40 per cent the population in some areas.

It also said the prevalence levels decreased to between one and two per cent in north Africa and to less than per cent in southern Africa.

“In countries such as Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana and Nigeria, the prevalence is between 20 per cent and 30 per cent, while in some parts of Uganda it is as high as 45 per cent.

“In countries where the trait prevalence is above 20 per cent the disease affects about two per cent of the population. The geographic distribution of the sickle-cell trait is very similar to that of malaria. The sickle cell trait has a partial protective effect against malaria, and this may explain why it has been maintained at such high prevalence levels in tropical Africa. Those who inherit the gene from both parents do not have this protection. In addition, they suffer from severe effects of SCD and many die before they reach reproductive age,” it added.

However, during the sickle cell enlightenment campaign organised by the Sickle Cell Foundation Nigeria (SCFN) in Ijede community recently, Ikorodu Local Government Area of Lagos State, Ayokunlemi’s father’s quest to know was further satiated by the presentation of the Foundation, whose mission was aimed at deepening the awareness of sickle cell disease and offering free testing and counseling to people living in rural areas.

According to a beneficiary of the SCFN, Mrs. Waris Tosin, who spoke on behalf of the other beneficiaries of the free test and drugs, commended MultiChoice Nigeria for partnering with the foundation in enhancing knowledge about sickle cell anaemia in Nigeria.”

“I am not a medical doctor, but from that day, I volunteered to work with the foundation when the need arises and this June, the foundation has kept to its promise to spread awareness concerning the disorder,” said Olakunle, who was present at the enlightenment campaign.

The Chief Executive Officer of the foundation, Dr. Annette Akinsete, said the annual outreach sponsored by MultiChoice Nigeria, was one of the activities organized by the foundation to mark the Sickle Cell Day and to reach out to people in the communities, particularly those in rural areas.

He disclosed that the foundation would increase rural awareness on the disorder in Abaranje Primary Health Centre in Ikotun-Igando area of Lagos the same way it was done at Ijede last year, adding that he believed the outreach programme would provide succour to many children and parents suffering the disease.