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Medical Personnel Want Sickle Cell Tests Made Free

Dr. Florence Oyella, head of pediatrics department at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital says the prevalence of sickle cell in Acholi is worrying, to the extent that even some doctors who should be knowledgeable about the disease, have children suffering from sickle cell.
01 Mar 2021 17:45
A notice at Pole Clinical Laboratory advising couples on the vital tests to do before marriage. Photo by Caroline Ayugi

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Doctors in Gulu have asked government to make the sickle cell test free, and ensure that more sensitisation about the disease is done, to encourage couples intending to get married to screen. The call comes following what doctors call a worrying prevalence of the disease in Acholi. 

  

Sickle cell is a genetic blood disorder that causes red blood cells to assume an abnormal shape of a sickle, obstructing the smooth flow of blood through the vessels to deliver oxygen throughout the body, leading to pain.

  

Dr. Florence Oyella, a head of pediatrics department at Gulu Regional Referral says the prevalence of sickle cell in Acholi is worrying, to the extent that even some doctors who should be knowledgeable about the disease, have children suffering from sickle cell.  

Dr. Oyella says when a couple wants the test, they are referred to other laboratories in Gulu, and the test can cost as much as Shillings 60,000.

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Dr. Oyella appealed to political leaders to take the issue up to national level, so that more sensitization is done, countrywide. 

She says their appeal to World Health Organization for support for the sickle cell unit was turned down, on argument that the organization only responds to pandemics, or diseases that affect the whole world. 

  

According to Dr. Oyella, they have decided not sensitize the public about the disease, saying the sickle cell unit does not have enough money to support even those enrolled.

    

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Sr. Stella Atim, the oficer in charge of palliative care are the hospital, says every Wednesday of the Week, they receive a minimum of 30 patients with sickle cell, with some parents having as many as three or even four sicklers.

  

“A mother comes here with four sicklers and she has been abandoned by her husband," Sr. Atim said. "Because of the ignorance surrounding sickle cell, every partner tends to blame the other when they get a sickler and the end result is abandonment and domestic violence.”

Dr. Monica Amono of Memar Medical Clinic in Gulu City, told URN that although the medical facility started five months ago, each month they test between 30-40 people intending to marry, but have received less than 10 couples who went on their own initiative to test for sickle cell trait, for the whole period they have been operating. 

  

Dr. Monica reveals that a sickling test (done to determine if one is a sickle cell carrier or trait) at the facility is 5,000 Shillings, while the HB Electrophoresis (which is done to determine if one is a sickler) costs 40,000 Shillings.

   

She says even though the facility encourages partners intending to marry to do the preliminary test which is only 5,000 Shillings, many of them refuse, saying it is expensive. She says many couples do sickling test when they are already trapped with a sick child. 

  

Dr. Monica advises the public to see reason that spending Shillings 5,000 or 40,000 in both tests, is way cheaper that having a child who will always fall sick, and drain the family financially and emotionally.

  

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Fred Adaku, who works at Pole Clinical Laboratory in Gulu City, says majority of people who take sickling tests are children of 5 years and younger, and very few couples. Records from the laboratory show that last month, only 18 people tested for sickle cell.

 

Officials at the laboratory say sometimes the number goes down, or slightly higher.   Adaku says a sickling test there is 10,000 Shillings while the confirmatory test is 30,000 Shillings. Other laboratories in Gulu charge the HB electrophoresis test at as much as 80,000 Shillings.   

A sickle cell survey conducted by ministry of health in 2014 with support from Makerere College of Health Sciences and Cincinnati Children’s hospital found that 18.6 percent of people in northern Uganda have sickle cell trait, the highest in the country.

  

Medical records at the sickle cell unit of Gulu hospital shows that 944 people have enrolled for treatment. Officials at the hospital believe the number is higher in the community, because many believe that it is a curse, and do not bother to test, while some are too poor to afford the frequent hospital visits.

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