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Go for Sickle Cell screening before marriage, lovers advised

Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa's spouse Prof Janet Kasilly (left) with Dr Dorothy Nyong'o and wife of Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong'o during the launch of sickle cell awareness month at Butere ACK church on September 12, 2023 [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

Young lovers in sickle cell-endemic areas have been urged to undergo testing for sickle cell disease before getting married to curb the rising number of children born with the condition.

During a blood drive at the Bungoma National Polytechnic, Antony Khisa, president of the Bungoma Rotary Club, emphasised the importance of knowing one's rhesus factors and sickle cell carrier status before deciding to have children. This knowledge can help prevent the continuation of the disease in their lineage.

"If you are unsure whether you produce sickle hemoglobin, you can find out by having your blood tested. Additionally, you may opt for a genetic test to determine if you carry the gene for sickle hemoglobin, which you could potentially pass on to your child," Khisa said.

He also advised parents of children with health issues to stop living in denial and seek appropriate help.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 66 percent of the 120 million people with sickle cell disease live in Africa. About 75 per cent of children with the disease are born in Sub-Saharan Africa. The WHO report indicates that approximately 300,000 children are born with sickle cell disease globally each year, with 240,000 of them born in Africa.

The blood drive, organized by Rotary International and Rotary District 9212 in partnership with the Bungoma County Referral Hospital, collected 148 pints of blood.

"Our blood banks have run dry in recent days, and that is very risky. This blood drive has been a continuous process by Rotary clubs across the world to increase the availability of blood for patients who need transfusions, especially sicklers in our facilities," said Khisa.

Rotarian Rose Waringa from Siaya County urged Kenyans not to shy away from donating blood, noting that blood donation is equivalent to saving a life.

"With the blood shortages experienced in our hospitals, we call on everyone below the age of 65 years who is eligible to donate blood to come out and donate to save lives at risk due to lack of blood," she said.

Rose explained that before donating blood, donors undergo a process that includes weighing to ensure they meet the required criteria, counseling on how often one can donate, and blood sampling.

"This blood that we donate is not our own; we have partnered with Bungoma County Referral Hospital, which has a blood bank where the blood will go to help those in need," she added.

She also mentioned that Rotary operates under seven themes, one of which is maternal health and childbirth.

Jacinta Ochieng', a sickle cell anemia warrior, told *The Standard* that she has been a long-time beneficiary of blood donations, appreciating the efforts by organizers in curbing blood shortages in hospitals.

"I was born with sickle cell and have been dependent on transfusions often since childhood. I applaud the Rotary clubs across the nation and worldwide for this blood donation exercise, and a major thank you to the donors who willingly come out to give blood. It goes a long way," she remarked.

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