What you need to know:
- Sickle cell disease occurs when a child inherits a bad gene from both parents, giving the patient’s red blood cells a sickle shape, hence making it an inherited disease.
- According to the World Health Organization, many children who are diagnosed with sickle cell anaemia die before reaching the age of eight, especially in Kenya, where families with such patients go through many challenges.
Men born in Western Kenya and Nyanza have been advised to marry women from outside their regions, if the war against soaring cases of sickle cell anaemia is to be won.
Speaking to Healthy Nation, Dr Dickens Lubanga, a pediatrician at Bungoma County Referral Hospital’s sickle cell clinic, disclosed that out of 10 children born at the facility, two are born with sickle cell disease. Latest data from the clinic shows that the facility receives over 1,000 patients in a week.
“Marrying from outside the region will help reduce the ever rising numbers of sicklers being born every day in Western and Nyanza,” he said.
Sickle cell disease occurs when a child inherits a bad gene from both parents, giving the patient’s red blood cells a sickle shape, hence making it an inherited disease.
The pediatrician explained that when one inherits a defect gene from one parent, they appear healthy but is a ‘carrier’ of the disease.
“It is therefore important for couples to go and get tested if they have sickle cell trait before planning for a family. If people took this sickle cell test seriously then the number of children with the disease would go down.”
According to the World Health Organization, many children who are diagnosed with sickle cell anaemia die before reaching the age of eight, especially in Kenya, where families with such patients go through many challenges.
At least 240,000 children in Africa are born each year with the disease. In Kenya, it is estimated that 14,000 children are born with it every year. In the absence of routine newborn screening and appropriate treatment, an estimated 50-90 per cent of those born with the condition die undiagnosed before their fifth birthday in Sub-Saharan Africa.
This disease is common in 18 counties, with high disease burden pockets in Western, Nyanza and Coastal regions.
Dr Lubanga further disclosed that initially when the clinic started in 2021, they used to be open to seeing sickle cell patients on Thursdays but due to the soaring number of patients the clinics now operate from Monday to Friday.
“I see over 1,000 patients in a week, which is an alarming number. This prompted the clinics to be done daily to reduce congestion.”
He observed that sickle cell has proven to be one of the most expensive diseases to treat and manage while urging the government to come to intervene and make medication available to the patients.
“This can only be handled if we have national conversations on how counties and the national government can work towards supporting sickle cell testing and treatment. In Bungoma we are now grappling with an acute shortage of drugs including hydroxyurea, prophylaxis and folic acid.” Dr Lubanga noted that a patient needs to take hydroxyurea, which helps in increasing blood levels, while prophylaxis helps in preventing malaria. Folic acid assists in further production of red blood cells.
“This facility experiences frequent drug stock-outs and we are appealing to the government to help us get more medicines to cushion sickle cell patients.”
In a recent local study done in Bungoma alone , experts found that most teenagers in this area have sickle cell traits and predicted that in the coming years the number of sickle cell cases is expected to go up to 4,000, Dr Lubanga revealed while further disclosing that Bungoma County Referral Hospital expects at least 600 babies born with the disease per month.
When Healthy Nation visited the facility’s paediatric section , we found out that half of the beds were occupied by sickle cell patients aged as young as five and despite the fact that the county has a satellite blood bank, sickle cell patients are still unable to access the blood they need since screening for all the blood that serves the entire county is only done in Eldoret.