Do I need to screen my partner for sickle cell?

Monday December 10 2018


By Dr Vincent Karuhanga

During a routine medical check, I was found to be a sickle cell carrier yet no one in our family has the disease. Before getting married, do I have to check my partner for the disease?

Dear Mighty,
Sickle cell anaemia is an inherited disease affecting the red blood cell’s red pigment leading to the normally disc-shaped cells becoming sickle-shaped hence getting entangled in the smaller blood vessels leading to the pain of sickle cell among other problems. Also, the red blood cells have a life span shorter than 120 days leading to low blood levels or anaemia.
Previously, sickle cell anaemia patients had a short life span but this has been mitigated today with the various treatment options leading to most sickle cell patients leading almost normal life with an extended lifespan.

Sickle cell anaemia is inherited from parents that are carriers and living a normal life usually without symptoms the likely reason why you say there are no people suffering from the disease in your family. Also, because the lifespan some while ago was short, your relatives with the disease could have died without diagnosis given also that Africans who usually die undiagnosed are said to have died of charms.
Today more people visit hospitals and are more easily screened for inheritable diseases or diagnosed than during the last decade when they would either die at home or at the witchdoctor’s shrine without diagnosis.

Before you marry you may require to visit a health facility together with your partner to be screened for genetic diseases such as sickle cell, sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and HPV (that causes cancer of the cervix, penis, anus and throat), blood group compatibility and ideally, fertility tests.
If you were told when young that you were a sickle cell carrier, you are still a sickle cell carrier requiring that you marry someone who has no sickle cell anaemia or not a carrier of sickle cell disease to avoid your offspring inheriting sickle cell anaemia.