The commissioning of a nationwide sickle cell survey by the government this week should be commended. The survey aims to establish the prevalence and burden of the blood disorder that causes so much pain to victims and burdens families financially and emotionally.
Apparently, it is estimated that nearly 20 per cent of Ugandans are at a risk of having children with the diseases and that up to 33,000 children are born with sickle cell disease in Uganda every year, most of who don’t live to see their fifth birthday.
This year-long survey through the Central Public Health Laboratories (CPHL) will therefore, put some real figures to the extent of the disease so that proper planning can be done to help ameliorate the pain the disease imposes on the victims and their families.
But in the meantime, the government can still do many things to help the victims and the families. One of the immediate things is making available vital medicines such as the pneumococcal vaccine at all public health facilities in the country to protect sickle cell patients from common infections that usually are responsible for early mortality. Currently, a dose of the vaccine from private pharmacies costs about Shs120,000. This is unaffordable for many families yet the first vaccination should be done at six months and another at three years.
The government should also stop dancing around the problem of malaria where over the last many years it has promoted incoherent strategies ranging from mosquito nets, DDT, IRS, etc. Malaria is one of the foremost causes of mortality among infant sicklers as it causes anaemia and precipitates painful crises. It is difficult to eradicate malaria completely but a more frontal approach needs to be taken.
Finally, there is need to train health workers to understand sickle cell aneamia better. Many medical workers have very limited knowledge of the disease and cannot, therefore, diagnose it at the earliest or manage the cases brought to them.