Subsidise drugs for sickle cell patients

JUNE 28, 2021

By Mustapha Baba

SIR: The United Nations General Assembly in 2008 set aside June 19 of every year as the World Sickle Cell Day for the purpose of increasing public awareness about sickle cell disorders, empathizing with them and supporting them in order to achieve their potential. The theme of this year is “Shining the light on sickle cell”.

I begin with the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s 2020 report which pointed out that approximately five per cent of the 7.7 billion world population carry trait genes for haemoglobin disorders, mainly, sickle-cell disease and thalassemia. It added that over 300,000 babies are born each year with Sickle Cell Disease SCD of which 75 per cent are born in Africa where mortality rate for under-five children is estimated to exceed 50 per cent.

The CEO of sickle cell foundation in Nigeria, Dr Annette Akinsete has also disclosed that Nigeria has the highest burden of the SCD in the world as virtually 150,000 babies are born every year with sickle cell disorders. The UN also indicated that there are over 25 million SCD patients in the world and 15 per cent of them live in Africa.

It is now known that the major cause of under-five children’s mortality rate in African countries, more especially in Nigeria, has to do with SCD, followed by malaria because so many patients are not aware of their genotypes. They also refuse to make new-born screening and pre-marriage genotype tests available as it is common in the developed world.

It is evident that poverty contributes to exacerbating SCD as many parents are incapable of buying their drugs because of their high cost. This is why this disease is gradually becoming an enormous burden or a huge social problem in Nigeria. These SCD’s patients are always in and out of hospitals and with it the attendant financial stress, physical stress and trauma. Sometimes, the disease makes parents of these SCD’s patients to be fed up with them. So, these parents and sufferers of SCD are in dire need of help from the federal and state governments.

On November 13, 2019, Hon. Umar Abdulkadir Sarki, member representing Katagum Federal Constituency, Bauchi State, at the lower chamber of National Assembly, presented a motion calling on the Federal Ministry of Health to develop an efficient system for management of SCD in Nigeria. He called on the Federal Ministry of Health to introduce free and compulsory new-born screening programme which shall include screening for SCD in all hospitals in Nigeria; provision of free treatment and counselling service to patients with SCD and sensitization of religious institutions and the judiciary to include results of genotype tests as one of the conditions for marriage, among others.

Considering experiences and problems being encountered by people living with SCD and their parents or caregivers, I appeal to the Federal Ministry of Health to act on Umar Abdulkadir Sarki’s motion without further ado. The SCD sufferers are in dire need of support from the three tiers of government. An effective way is to subsidise their treatment costs.


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