Photograph — Nephron

A new bill making blood tests compulsory for intending couples passed second reading on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. The bill is aimed at preventing, controlling, and managing sickle cell anaemia in Nigeria. It is a known fact that the sickle cell disease prevails in the country because of the wrong matching of conflicting genotypes in marriages and procreation.

Sickle cell anaemia is known for distorting the red blood cells which mostly result in severely painful blood clots and is among the top genetic hemoglobin disorders. The number of deaths from the genetically inherited disease is less than five percent of the world population but people with African origins face a higher risk.

Lawmaker Sam Egwu, the sponsor of the bill highlighted the importance of a law guiding intending couples, saying it would help to curb preventable massive deaths and avoidable hardships caused by the disease. The bill prevents persons who are carriers (AS and SS) of the diseased gene from marrying other carriers.

In other to achieve this, the sponsor said it was necessary to place a statutory duty on the federal government to engage in and encourage the prevention, control, and management of the occurrence, spread, and effect of sickle cell anaemia.

Over 300,000 babies are born with severe sickle cell disease globally with 75 percent of the number born in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria has a higher percentage of the burden with 66 percent in the region, the American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.

A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that 24 percent of the Nigerian population are carriers of the mutant gene and the prevalence of sickle cell anaemia is about 20 per 1,000 births.

Experts have linked the prevalence of the deadly disease to the wrong matching of couples with conflicting genotypes, especially in rural areas. They described as critical, the need for couples to check their genotypes before marriage.

Identifying the reason why people with sickle cell disease mostly have it, experts said the couple inherited two sickle cell genes, one from each parent. For instance, if a man with AS genotype marries an AS woman, they are bound to have at least one SS (Sickle Cell) child.

To address this, Egwu said the legislation will enable the Ministry of Health to direct, coordinate and supervise the prevention, control, and management of the disease. It will also empower the ministry to accredit reputable public and private hospitals and medical clinics across the country, including rural areas, to function as participants in the prevention, control, and management of the disease in Nigeria.

Speaking further, the lawmaker explained that the passage of the bill will ensure that experts and other stakeholders are committed to the prevention and control of sickle cell disease in the country through adequate sensitization and counseling.

“It will ensure that these campaigns, sensitization, and services are taken to the rural areas across the nation where the majority of the citizens are ignorant of this disease and do not carry out the relevant tests to ascertain their genotype before getting married,” said the lawmaker.

The sickle cell in Nigeria could drastically reduce provided the government ensures that the law, when finally passed, is duly observed. By so doing, it will culminate in reduced morbidity and mortality caused by the disease.

By Ahmed Iyanda.

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