Covid: Time for sickle cell marshal plan

Friday June 19 2020


By Ashiraf Ssebandeke

Akiror Kevina was a seven-month-old baby living with sickle cell disease from Odokurun village in Amuria District.

She suffered anaemia, which is one of the challenges caused by sickle cell disease during the Covid-19 lockdown.

As a result, her parents couldn’t take her to hospital for blood transfusion. By the time the ban on public transport was eased, she had graduated to acute anaemia.

On Monday last week, Akiror was rushed to Katakwi Hospital where she had been attending the sickle cell clinic before the lockdown.

Due to her deteriorating health condition, she was referred to Soroti Regional Referral Hospital. Unfortunately, she passed on in the ambulance at Katakwi Hospital. Her parents lost their daughter who was the third child in the family to die due to sickle cell-related complications.

As Uganda joins the rest of the world today to mark the World Sickle Cell Day, it should be known that Covid-19 has impacted on people living with sickle cell. There are many people who cannot access the required treatment or get drug refills.


Akiror’s story is not any different from that of Barasa in Busia District who used to receive treatment from Tanaka Hospital in Busia, Kenya. Since the Covid-related disruptions at Uganda-Kenya border, he has not been to hospital, which has resulted in deteriorating health.

During this period of Covid-19 pandemic, people living with sickle cell are at high risk of being infected by coronavirus as they are more likely to get the virus.

We call upon people living with sickle cell and their families to adhere to the Covid-19 guidelines issued by the Health ministry in order to stay safe. The fear of getting a painful crisis and failing to access the health facility sends many into panic. This anxiety, stress and pain all have to be managed so as to keep you out of hospital.

Before Covid-19, outbreak, Uganda had registered progress in sickle cell awareness, treatment, research and diagnosis. So if nothing is done salvage the situation today, we may lose the gains we have made.

Therefore, it is high time we drew a sickle cell marshall plan to consolidate the achievements we have made. According to Uganda Sickle Cell Survey of 2015, at least 0.78 per cent of Ugandans have sickle cell disease. World Health Organisation predicts that if nothing is done, the number of people living with sickle cell will rise.

A sickle cell marshall plan should prioritise access to medical services for people living with the disease. This will require that there is sickle cell clinics in all public health facilities. During lockdown period, many patients could not travel to sickle cell clinics and gravely impacted their lives.

Besides, a marshal plan should focus on building community awareness and empowerment as foundations for working on challenges affecting each community. Research should be a major component of the plan to help people living with sickle cell to stay healthy during and after the lockdown.

Ashiraf Ssebandeke,