Sickle Cell Anemia: Largely Ignored

The Ssemakula Family, from left to right: Lawrence, Quinn, Genesis, Josephine, Genevieve. Quinn, middle, suffers from Sickle Cell Anemia. 

The Ssemakula Family, from left to right: Lawrence, Quinn, Genesis, Josephine, Genevieve. Quinn, middle, suffers from Sickle Cell Anemia. 

Infamous and deadly diseases such as malaria and cholera are endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa. Many humanitarian efforts focus their efforts and resources toward the reducing the impact of these diseases.  Unfortunately, Sickle Cell Anemia, also highly prevalent and dangerous, has largely been ignored.

Sickle Cell Anemia differs from malaria in that it is genetic rather than infectious.  This means that it is not transmitted through insects or human contact but is passed down from parent to child.  When both parents carry the recessive gene, known as Sickle Cell Trait, the child has a 25% chance of inheriting Sickle Cell Anemia.  Children born with the disease have differently shaped hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in red blood cells.  Sickle hemoglobin becomes rigid after losing the oxygen molecules.  This causes the red blood cells, which are normally supple and round in shape, to take on a hard sickle shape.  While normal red blood cells slide easily through small vessels, the abnormal cells form clots thereby restricting blood flow.  These cells also die more quickly, causing a constant lack of red blood cells (anemia).  Symptoms of this disorder can be devastating and complications include extreme pain, stroke, infections, and acute chest syndrome.

For our friends Lawrence and Josephine Ssemakula, Sickle Cell Anemia is part of their daily reality.  Their eldest daughter, Quinn, was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia as a baby.  At 10 years of age, she has already beaten the odds which show that in Africa, of the estimated 200,000-300,000 infants born with Sickle Cell Anemia every year, 60-70% will die before the age of 5.  Quinn’s good health is largely due to the care of her loving and educated parents who have worked diligently even with their limited income at building her immune system through diet.  Our organization has been working with the Ssemakula family since 2004, providing education in the Bible and healthcare.  In our time in Uganda with them, we experimented with different crops and dietary supplements for Quinn, working together to find how best to keep her small body strong.

Though the prognosis for “sicklers” as they are called in East Africa is bleak, on-going care can greatly improve the life expectancy for Quinn and the many others who struggle with this disease.  We have committed to seeing that Quinn has this opportunity, and have been working with her family to find ways to improve her health.  Some of these include growing alfalfa in their family garden to increase her intake of iron and vitamin C and acquiring a hemoglobin scale that works simply by color and requires nothing electronic yet is accurate.  We pray that with continued efforts, Quinn’s life and health will be a sign of hope to her community and of God’s love for others whom the world ignores.