June 19 is World Sickle Cell Awareness Day

Sickle cell

Any disease that has its own day is a disease worth knowing more about, and sickle cell anemia is no exception: Sickle Cell Disease is a congenital condition responsible for the deaths of up to 5% of children in some African countries.

Sickle cell anemia occurs when a person inherits two copies of the sickle globin gene, a recessive gene which causes red blood cells to be defective. These red blood cells take the shape of a crescent moon or a croissant – instead of their normal disk shape – which is what gives the disease its name. This congenital condition is most frequently found in patients of African, Mediterranean, Indian and Arabic descent; it occurs in about 2 out of every 1000 African American births, and 1 in every 12 African Americans have the Sickle Cell trait .

The red blood cells of people with this disease have two main problems: their faulty hemoglobin does not carry enough oxygen, and their unusual shape makes it difficult for them to flow, thus blocking smaller blood vessels. This causes all sorts of symptoms and complications, from anemia and jaundice (a yellow coloring of the skin) all the way to chronic pain, risk of stroke, and damage to lungs, spleen, kidneys and liver.

There is no universal cure for this disease, but there are several ways to alleviate the symptoms. Common treatments include hot packs and pain relievers, but patients with more severe symptoms may require blood transfusions and bone marrow transfusions. This is where the general public can help, by registering as marrow donors and donating blood at their local blood bank.

The World Health Organization has committed to address this disease as a major health issue, with a worldwide approach that aims to increase global awareness of the disease, to establish and support national health programs for its detection and treatment, and to provide technical support and promote research.

World Sickle Cell Awareness day is celebrated all over the world with blood donating drives, chats and conferences, music shows and cultural activities.