Chhattisgarh stares at massive health threat - sickle cell anaemia

August 26th, 2009 - 10:41 am ICT by IANS  

By Sujeet Kumar
Raipur, Aug 26 (IANS) Nearly three million people in Chhattisgarh are said to be suffering from sickle cell anaemia, a genetic disorder that can be life threatening. The state is now screening its entire population in the 3-15 age group to detect the disease early and step up awareness.

The Centre for Genetic Diseases and Molecular Biology, set up by the state government to control the disease, has launched the Chhattisgarh Sickle Cell Screening Project to take blood samples.

“Some 200,000 people have been screened in Raipur district so far and approximately 9-10 percent of the population has been found to be either sickle cell carriers or suffering from the disease. The carrier is basically a heterogeneous gene that has the potential to transmit the disease,” Pradeep Kumar Patra, in-charge of the centre, told IANS.

The government hopes that by screening the 3-15 age group, carriers as well as patients of the disease can be detected early and provided medical care and counselling. Sickle cell anaemia is an incurable disorder.

He said though the disorder is prevalent in all the 18 districts of the state, it is alarming in 10 of them that have a high population of certain Other Backward Classes (OBC) communities and tribes, among whom the disorder is very common.

“The problem in rural areas is that people are not much aware of the disease,” he remarked, adding, “Chhattisgarh should be considered a ‘nucleus’ of the sickle cell disorder in India though it is prevalent in its neighbouring states - Maharashtra, Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and parts of Andhra Pradesh.”

In Chhattisgarh, the disease has attained alarming proportions with more than 50 percent of affected children dying before the age of five and many others in the prime of their youth.

“Though we don’t have actual data of patients suffering from sickle cell disease, the estimated figure is up to 15 percent or three million of the state’s 20 million population,” S.M.M. Murthy, senior heath official with the Directorate of Health Services, told IANS.

Murthy, who is also the state nodal officer of the government’s Sickle Cell Disorder Control Programme since it was launched in late 2004, said: “Thousands of people in the state are succumbing to sickle cell anaemia annually because most of the patients who live in illiteracy-hit pockets are not turning up at health centres for blood tests and thus end up transmitting the disease to their children.”

A sickle cell patient, Pawan Kumar Sahu, 43, who works as office-secretary, Raipur Press Club, narrates, “I feel extreme stress in veins, mainly in both legs, and it looks that someone has been inserting a needle hard in my veins, it really creates unbearable pain”.

“Neither of my parents had sickle cell disease nor do my two daughters have it. As far as family history of the disease is concerned, only one cousin suffered from it. I have to regularly get admitted to the hospital when the pain becomes intolerable.

“Last week I was discharged from a hospital, but the pain I felt during the period still haunts me”.

The sickle cell disorder is an inherited genetic lifelong blood disorder characterised by red blood cells assuming an abnormal, rigid, sickle shape. Sickling decreases the cell’s flexibility and results in a risk of serious complications.

The sickling occurs because of a mutation in the haemoglobin gene. Life expectancy is substantially shortened among patients.

When sickle-shaped cells block small blood vessels, less blood can reach that part of the body. A tissue that does not receive normal blood flow eventually becomes damaged; this is what causes the complications of the sickle cell disease.

(Sujeet Kumar can be contacted at sujeet.k@ians.in)

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