Martins Ifijeh

At least 150,000 children are born with sickle cell disease in Nigeria every year, while about 40 million Nigerians are healthy carriers of the sickle cell gene, the Coalition of Sickle Cell Non-governmental Organisations in Nigeria has said.

They noted that Nigeria has the biggest burden of the scourge globally, hence the need for increased advocacy on its prevention, treatment and management.

Stating this at a news conference in Lagos recently to mark the 2018 World Sickle Cell Day, the Chairman of the Coalition, Mrs. Toyin Adesola, said the high prevalence rate of the disorder is one reason government at all levels must invest in addressing it.

The coalition comprises 13 NGOs including Sickle Cell Foundation of Nigeria, Genotype Foundation, Noah’s Ark Foundation, Tony May Foundation, among others.

Adesola said: “We are proposing that there should be more advocacy and awareness concerning SCD and the issues surrounding it, especially in the rural areas. We want our leaders to invest more in reaching out and creating more awareness about the condition.

“The high number of carriers of the gene in Nigeria (about 40 million) could amount to five African countries. So it is something we must give utmost concern to,” she said.

She explained that a long time, sickle cell has not been given much attention, adding that it should be categorised as a public health issue.

Adesola said the challenges being faced by people living with SCD include stigma and mismanagement due to poverty, adding that people with SCD need proper care and management, both mentally and physically, to survive the condition.

“We need improved management processes including establishment of more sickle cell centres, and education of more doctors and nurses across the country. Also, all federal and state government-owned hospitals should be properly equipped to be able to manage people living with sickle cell disease,” she said.

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited form of anemia – a condition in which there is not enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen throughout the body.

Also speaking, the Director, Sickle Cell Foundation, Mrs. Ayo Otaigbe, said the disease was not a death sentence, as persons living with it can lead normal lives if condition is adequately managed.

She urged well-meaning Nigerians to support the foundations by donating towards the betterment of affected persons.

She said: “Funding is one major challenge facing the management of SCD in Nigeria. Our main goal is for them to live crisis-free lives as much as possible, and be useful to the society and themselves. We are also advocating that the government should give subsidised treatment for people who cannot afford to pay their medical bills,” she added.

Otaigbe said with about 25 per cent of Nigerians as carriers of the gene, Nigerians must unite with one voice against it.

On his part, the Head, Human Resources Recruitment, Fidelity Bank, Mr. Chris Nnakwe, said that the bank will continue to support the coalition to create more awareness about SCD.

He said: “We are passionate about health, education, the environment and social development. Our CSR is dedicated to addressing issues around these areas.”

Nnakwe said the bank has gotten its divisions and branches involved in the fight against sickle cell disease, adding that they were now going beyond just building structures. “We are going full blast this year in supporting this coalition. This is a killer that can be prevented and we will do our bit to ensure that. We intend to make this an annual sponsorship.”