Uganda is to host the Sixth International Sickle Cell Conference between 25 and 27 May in Kampala.
The conference, organised by the Network of Sickle Cell Disease in Africa, is expected to raise the profile of sickle cell disease.
Prof. Christopher Ndugwa, a pediatrician and sickle cell specialist, defines sickle cell disease as a hereditary blood disorder in which the red blood cells produce abnormal haemoglobin.
This abnormal haemoglobin makes the cells sickle-shaped (they become shaped like the sickle instead of the round doughnut-like shape normal cells have).
The sickle cells cannot perform the functions of normal red blood cells, for example, transporting oxygen properly around the body.
Secondly, unlike normal red blood cells, which last for 120 days in the body, sickled red blood cells last about 20 days, which causes anaemia to the patient.
The disease is inherited from both parents (when both of then carry the trait).
According to Charles Kiyaga, the national sickle cell coordinator with the health ministry, an average of 13.3% of Ugandans carry the sickle cell trait. He says this translates into one out of every seven Ugandans.
This means chances of carriers of the trait having a child together, who could be a sickler are high. Therefore, Kiyaga advises couples to test for sickle cells before they start having children together.
About the conference
Unfortunately, Kiyaga noted, sickle cell disease has been largely neglected in sub-Saharan Africa, where the burden is highest.
Therefore, all ministers of health in sub-Saharan Africa have been invited to the conference and to a special ministerial session in which a declaration will be passed for sickle cell disease in the region.
Written by Lillian N. Magezi. This story was sourced from the New Vision website.