JUNE 19 is commemorated as World Sickle Cell Awareness Day annually. This year, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, in collaboration with its partners, will continue recognising those living with sickle cell disease while raising awareness on the impact of those affected by the disease. As we reflect on this year’s theme ‘Shine the Light on Sickle Cell’, we want to continue to support people living with sickle cell disease with the necessary treatment that can help manage and monitor many of the symptoms they experience.
In Jamaica, one in every 150 people is born with sickle cell disease (SCD), and one in every 10 has the sickle cell trait. People living with SCD can be identified by having a low blood count; yellowing of the eyes and skin; pain in the arms, legs, chest, and joints; enlargement of the abdomen from spleen and liver swelling; and strokes.
Children affected by SCD may die from severe infection and blood pooling in the spleen. This makes the risk of deaths the highest in the first three years of life.
To start early treatments and save lives, the Ministry of Health and Wellness provides screening to all pregnant women and newborn babies. The turnaround time for the screen results is four weeks, allowing early interventions such as immunisation and antibiotic administration to prevent infection.
Children are not the only ones affected by SCD. Sickle Cell Disease also complicates pregnancy, increasing the risk of disability and death before, during, and after delivery.
The screening during first pregnancy facilitates the referral to high-risk clinics where specialist care is available.
The ministry continues to protect the vulnerable group by offering five doses of pneumococcal vaccine for infants and young children and a booster dose of haemophilus influenza type B vaccine before five years old. The additional immunisation will complete the childhood protection against pneumonia, meningitis, and blood infections.
I implore parents, especially expectant mothers to find out their sickle cell status and that of their child and maintain contact with their health-care provider. It is better to know and get treatment and guidance for sickle cell disease from the early stage. To those living with the disease, I implore you to continue to get your treatment. Thank you
Dr Christopher Tufton, Minister of Health and Wellness