Raising awareness for sickle cell disease
Sunday, June 19 is World Sickle Cell Day. Thousands of Jamaicans are affected by this dreaded disease. I asked Dr Anya McLaren, a Jamaican medical practitioner in Canada who has just won the prestigious Pediatrics Scientific Abstract Award for her research in this area, to tell us about the disease, and why World Sickle Cell Day is important to Jamaicans.
DR: What is sickle cell disease?
AM: Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a common inheritable disorder that affects red blood cells causing them to become abnormally sickle-shaped and to get stuck inside the blood vessels. Sickle cells can obstruct the flow of blood around the body, causing intense pain, severe organ damage and stroke. Millions of children and adults are affected by sickle cell disease. They experience earlier death, frequent hospitalisations and missed days from school, and significant financial burdens.
DR: What is World Sickle Cell Awareness Day?
AM: World Sickle Cell Awareness Day was named by the United Nations in 2008. This day commemorates the day that the General Assembly of the United Nations recognised sickle cell disease as a public health priority. Countries with individuals affected by sickle cell disease were urged to establish health programmes and ensure access for affected individuals, while promoting research and technical support. World Sickle Cell Awareness Day has been chosen as the day to raise awareness of the disease in the world. Emphasis is placed on educating medical professionals, care providers and associated individuals about recognition, prevention, research and resources to minimise the complications caused by sickle cell disease.
DR: Why is World Sickle Cell Day important?
AM: Individuals with SCD face a lifetime of pain and challenges and despite advances in medical care for this patient population, the life expectancy has not significantly changed over the last couple of decades. We must raise awareness of this debilitating disease that affects so many, from our babies to our children and adults. We need more research and funding to support individuals with sickle cell disease.