This month is Black History Month, a time to celebrate and recognise the achievements and worth of black people now and historically. As part of that, it’s important to recognise the issues that specifically affect the black community. There is often limited awareness and understanding around conditions and illnesses that affect black people. This is why I think it’s important to talk about sickle cell and ensure that communities and medical professionals know what it is, and how to tackle it.
Sickle cell disease is a disorder of the blood which is inherited from both parents, commonly known as sickle cell anaemia. It presents with an abnormality of oxygen-carrying protein which is found in the blood. This abnormality leads to a typical sickle-shaped blood cell and decreases the oxygen-carrying capacity of the haemoglobin. Sickle cell anaemia is more common in those of African and Caribbean descent. It is also seen in the Middle Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean population as well.
Sickle cell disease can lead to what is known as a sickle cell crisis. This is when then these sickle-shaped red blood cells block vessels which can affect any part of the body. The health complications can be life-threatening and it comes with regular bouts of crippling pain.
Unfortunately, sickle cell disease is a life-long illness. There are treatments to prevent and reduce crises, but there is no known cure. Advances in medicine aren’t coming fast enough. Stem cells and bone marrow transplant are the only cure on the horizon for sickle cell disease at this point. However, there are huge risks associated with these procedures.
It’s important to keep talking about sickle cell disease because it’s essentially an invisible illness. It’s not obvious if someone suffers from sickle cell, and as a result, is largely misunderstood – which can lead to misdiagnosis and even death. It affects black people more than any other ethnic group – a community that usually experiences poorer health outcomes because of inequality, so increasing awareness is vital to improving treatment and care.