Fungai Lupande Mashonaland Central Bureau
Nurses will soon start specialised training in haematology -- the treatment of blood complaints, and oncology -- the treatment of tumours, to improve diagnosis and care for these patients and particularly for those living with the range of complaints that sickle cell inheritance can cause in Zimbabwe, Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Dr John Mangwiro has said.
Speaking while opening the first sickle cell anaemia clinic at Bindura Provincial Hospital recently, he said specialised nurses will have adequate knowledge about sickle cell, the complaints generated and the appropriate management plus being able to sort out the need for early detection and identification of its types.
The range of complaints is genetic in origin and largely confined to people of sub-Saharan African descent, although it also occurs in the Arabian peninsular and India, along with wherever Africans have emigrated or been taken.
One copy of the gene gives some protection against malaria, but the person has normal blood cells. Two copies of the gene, one from each parent, produces a range of symptoms including possibly the sickle-shaped blood cells and that can lead to a number of complications that need careful management if the person living with this form of anaemia is to live a long and largely active life.
There are a number of closely related genes that cause the complaint, and a lot of the management and treatment depends on which type or types of gene are inherited from both parents and when the treatment and management can start.
So the Ministry of Health and Child Care is in the process of procuring the latest machinery and equipment for the detection of sickle cell.
The machinery will be first put up in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland East provinces.
Dr Mangwiro said the launch of the clinic coincided with the World Sickle Cell Anaemia Day, which is commemorated on June 19.
"The Government and the Ministry of Health and Child Care will continue to support responsive initiatives that seek to improve and provide care for sickle cell patients," he said.
"Sickle cell is a rare genetic condition which is inherited. It is a permanent condition whose life threatening effect can only be managed through early correct diagnosis and specialised care thereafter.
"The clinic lays a solid foundation for the care of those living with sickle cell. I commend Sickle Anaemia Trust Zimbabwe for establishing a centre for championing advocacy work around sickle cell, improve diagnosis and care for patients in Zimbabwe."
Dr Magwiro said there was need to drive awareness in communities and health care institutions to address cases of ignorance and stigmatisation.
Sickle cell patients were usually referred to as bewitched or malnourished, due to people's lack of knowledge around the disease.
"A sickle cell crisis is a medical emergency and must be treated as such," said Dr Mangwiro. "Among the strong undertakings by our Government, is the mandatory new-borns screening for sickle cell anaemia and its types."
Many African countries with communities where the gene is relatively common now routinely screen all new borns so the most effective and tailored treatment can start early, and so minimise the effects.
"There is, therefore, a need to look into alignment of laws and policies to ensure adequate care of people living with the condition," he said.
Dr Mangwiro said he will engage the Women's Bank so that people living with sickle cell could start self-help projects to cater for medical expenses.
Sickle Anaemia Trust Zimbabwe founder Ms Morleen Chima, who lived with the condition largely untreated for 26 years, said she lived with pain and stigma.
"As I walked this journey I noticed several awareness and management inadequacies which made me realise that there are others throughout the country facing the same predicament," she said.
"The trust was launched in 2019 and with early diagnosis and specialised care, sickle cell patients will live long and fulfilled lives.
"Through support from partners we are able free sickle cell screening, subsidised medication and advocacy for the use of issue random diagnostic tests in Zimbabwe."
Her mother, Mrs Mugove Chima, said Morleen, who is hospitalised at a city hospital, had to brave the weather to attend the launch.