Obasanjo: People Living with Sickle Cell Need Empathy, Not Sympathy

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Olusegun Obasanjo

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has reiterated the need for more collaborative efforts to foster better education and awareness about sickle cell disease just as he stated that people living with sickle cell need empathy not sympathy.

He spoke last week in Lagos as the grand patron of the First African Congress on Sickle Cell Disease(ACSCD).

Obasanjo emphasized the fact that every sickle cell sufferer had a unique story behind the pain they go through therefore, need empathy and not sympathy.

The 3-day conference organized by Dr. Sickle Cell – Center for Sickle Cell Disease in association with Olusegun Obasanjo Foundation and supported by World Health Organization, Federal Ministry of Health amongst other sickle cell foundations across Africa was indeed a huge event for the sickle cell community in Africa and was attended by delegates from Ghana, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Namibia, India, Netherland, Egypt, Belgium, Canada, United State and United Kingdom.

The co-chair ACSCD Congress, Dr. David Ajaere stated during his welcome address that the burden of sickle cell disease can not be overcome by any single organization or individual, it takes an hoslitic approach whereby partnerships are forged between organizations and relevant stakeholders with aligned interest and vision in a bid to overcoming sickle cell disease in Africa.

The Director for WHO Africa region, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, who was represented at the congress by Prof. Jean-marie Dangou, Coordinator of Non-Communicable Disease Primary Prevention and Integrated Management, also addressed the need for setting priorities for national, regional and global SCD prevention and control programme.

The Kabaka (King) of the Buganda Kingdom in Uganda who was represented at the congress by his Minister of Health, Dr. Prosperous Nankindu, also shared insight on the fight against sickle cell disease in Uganda and how they have successfully made Ugandans more aware of sickle cell management by puporlarising the need for genotype screening before marriage.

The First lady of Lagos State, Dr Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, who was represented at the congress by Dr. Mobolaji Johnson, gave a welcome address to the local and international delegates at the Congress.

CEO, National Marrow Donor Program/Be The Match, Dr. Randal Mills also stated that a cure for sickle cell disease exists.

He further mentioned that access to curative bone marrow transplant requires partnership at all levels. The founder of MMAWT Legacy initiative and First Lady of Sokoto, Mrs Maryam Aminu Tambuwal, said “Separate those who abuse drugs from those who take prescription drugs and do not stigmatize warriors by calling them drug addicts”.

President of Vicar Hope Foundation and First lady of Abia State, Mrs. Nkechi Ikpeazu, said Sickle cell disease is mainly an African problem adding that stakeholders on the African continent should lead efforts to eradicate it.

She also acknowledged that some non-governmental bodies and a few governments were doing quite a bit to address the challenge of sickle cell and that individual efforts would yield better results if there is collaboration across borders. The ACSCD International Coordinator, Amb. Eddie Resphanto stated the need for a collective voice on sickle cell disease in Africa. He further reiterated in clear terms on how the ACSCD will help the international sickle cell community create the platform for a collective and collaborative impact.

Also speaking at the congress, Prof. Nosa Bazuaye said that the University of Benin Teaching Hospital has since 2017, successfully carried out 9 Bone Marrow Transplants on persons with SCD despite obstacles and limited resources.

He added that there is hope on the future of sickle cell research in Africa if other countries could ensure they make use of the power of the collective voice.

Organizations represented at the congress include National Marrow Donor Program, Sickle Cell Foundation, Novartis, Global Blood Therapeutics(GBT), RR Mechatronics, Biomediomics, Hemex Health, Federal Ministry of Health, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Lagos State Blood & Transfusion Service, AMPATH Kenya, Sickle Cell 101 USA, Tanzania Sickle Cell Warriors Organization(TASIWA), Healing stripes Hospital, Terumo BCT, Bristol Scientifics, Sickle Cell Foundation Nigeria, Sickle Life Ghana, Association of Paediatric Surgeons of Nigeria, Federal Medical Center Ogun State, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, University of Benin Teaching Hospital and OAU Teaching Hospital.

Others are eHealth Africa, Sickle Cell Hope Alive Foundation(SCHAF), StemRX Pharmaceuticals India, Pro-Health International, Sickle Cell Advocacy & Management Initiative(SAMI), Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Manipal Hospital India, Omega-cares Foundation, Xcene Research, Bond Chemicals Limited, National Hospital Abuja, Health Forever Product Limited, Patviv Health, Assene-Laborex Limited, Zutron Pharmaceuticals, Sickle Cell Well Africa Foundation, ABU Teaching Hospital, SAI PhytoceuticalsPvt Ltd, and Sickle Cell Aid Foundation.