Living With Sickle Cell Anemia

By Jenni Bristow.

Managing any chronic illness is a difficult path, and sickle cell anemia is no exception. The World Health Organization estimates that 2% of Ghana’s population, or nearly 18,000 people, suffer from sickle cell anemia, and 1 in 3 people are carriers of the genes that cause it. If you or a loved one suffers from sickle cell anemia, do not lose hope. While the disease can be debilitating, with proper medical treatment you can live a full and healthy life.

What is Sickle Cell Anemia?

Sickle cell anemia is a mutation of the hemoglobin cells in which they form a crescent shape. These abnormal cells clog the arteries, causing extreme pain, organ damage, and higher chances of infection. This condition is very serious in Ghana, as proper medical treatment can be difficult to come by. It’s not always practical to travel long distances for quality medical care, but treatment is essential to reduce the symptoms and complications of sickle cell anemia. The sickle shaped cells die off within weeks, and cannot be easily replaced naturally by the body’s bone marrow, which normally produces new blood cells every six months. Bone marrow transplants can ease the body’s burden of creating cells, but such treatments are not readily available in Ghana.

Sickle Cell Anemia Treatment

Seek out treatment regimens that help the body cope with the symptoms of sickle cell anemia, and ease the pain that these oddly shaped cells can cause. Children should receive their full set of immunizations, as well as twice daily doses of penicillin. Folic acid and blood transfusions may also be recommended to prevent severe anemia. A new medicine called Hydroxyurea helps prevent cells from turning into sickle shapes, but is not widespread in Ghana. Proper diet and clean water helps the body fight off the symptoms of sickle cell anemia. Extreme cold exacerbates the pain attacks and should be avoided. These excruciating bouts of pain are often treated with prescription opiates. However, opiates are addictive and this can lead to overuse, even if prescribed by a doctor. Remember to follow all sickle cell treatment guidelines as told to you by a healthcare professional, and speak up if you believe opiates are becoming a problem. While prescription opiates may seem like a good short-term solution, over time they can become as much of a problem as the sickle cell anemia.

Prevention of Sickle Cell Anemia

Sickle cell anemia can be prevented, through screening and education. Young people in Ghana should be tested to see if they are carriers of the sickle cell genes. Once they know of their genetic status, they can make educated family planning decisions in the future. A couple where both parents have the genes have a 1 in 4 chance of having a baby with sickle cell anemia. While young lovers and newlyweds may be uncomfortable talking about the chance of passing sickle cell anemia to their future children, the knowledge of how devastating the disease can be should be enough to prompt them to make difficult decisions.

If a woman is pregnant, there is a screening test that can determine whether the baby will be born with sickle cell anemia. This information can be difficult for the young mother. If a positive result is found, she will have time to educate herself on the baby’s future treatment options. However, some women may opt to terminate the pregnancy, if the burden would be too difficult to bear. While this is a personal decision, sickle cell anemia need not be a death sentence. The average life span of a person with sickle cell anemia is 48 years. With proper care, children can live a long life and be productive members of society.

Government Initiatives for Sickle Cell Anemia

National programs can help the citizens of Ghana manage sickle cell anemia effectively. The creation of hospitals and treatment centers in rural locations will help make treatment more accessible for families affected by the disease. The need for widespread education about the disease indicates that teachers and social workers will help provide necessary counseling and support to those at risk for passing the genes to their offspring. Scientific studies and research within Ghana are crucial for advancements in sickle cell anemia treatment, and to determine the areas in Ghana that are the most vulnerable.

Sickle cell anemia is a lifelong illness that requires a comprehensive treatment plan. Accommodations for the disease will be needed throughout your lifetime, to manage pain and ensure good health. However, with diligent care, you can live your life, knowing that you have taken advantage of every treatment option within your reach. The future holds many possible treatments for sickle cell anemia and a brighter future for generations to come.