Consultant Pediatrician, Dr Adewumi Oyesakin, has called on traditional rulers to enlighten their subjects on mandatory genotype tests.
Oyesakin, who is of the Department of Pediatrics, National Hospital, Abuja, made the call in a chat with Newsmen on Tuesday.
She said that traditional leaders were closer to the people and have a level of influence over them.
“When they are aware of the existence of genotype and risks of marrying someone with wrong genotype, they will encourage people in their communities to also know their genotype and make informed decisions about who to marry.
Recalls that Sickle Cell Disease, is a genetic disease that affects Red Blood Cells and changes them into stiff, sticky, sickle cells that blocks blood flow and can cause pain and tissue damage.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 300,000 babies with severe haemoglobin disorders are born globally each year with 75 per cent found in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Of this figure, Nigeria is said to carry 66 per cent of the burden in the region, translating into 100,000 to 150,000 babies born with sickle cell disease yearly.
Oyesakin also said that state governments could conduct free genotype tests to encourage people to get tested.
“Make it such that people can walk into some facilities to check their genotype free of charge.
“The way we provide water in the community, we can provide access to genotype testing in the community, so that people are aware of its existence and aware of their genotype.
“This is so that when somebody who wants to take a third or second wife knows that his genotype is AS, he knows no matter how many wives he is allowed to marry, they should fall within the genotype that will not be breeding children with sickle cell anaemia.
“So I think it is advocacy, education, provision of the tests that may help at the traditional level,’’ Oyesakin said.
She defined sickle cell disease as a genetic disorder which is a result of having an abnormal hemoglobin S, which could be called homogeneous when someone has the two hemoglobin SS or hemoglobin SC.
“All these are the variants of sickle cell disease. So when you have a couple having the traits of S that is hemoglobin S in their gene like AS AS or somebody having AS and the other one SS.
“That means that there is probability of either of them donating the S at any point in time, and that brings them to having an offspring with hemoglobin SS. Such a child is said to have sickle cell disease.”
Oyesakin said that at the health level, the Medical Women Association has tried various advocacy approaches on the issue of sickle cell anemia.
She, however, said that during the programmes, it was discovered that some people confuse genotype with blood grouping.
“So we try to let people know that there is something called genotype and once you discover that your genotype is AS, you must not marry somebody with AS or SS.”
On the religious side, Oyesakin said that although leaders were now getting aware of the fact that genotypeAS existed.
She added they also know marriage between couple of genotype AS may result in having children with sickle cell disease as little was being done about it.
She added that though some Churches discourage people from getting married once they discover that the genotype of the couple was not compatible, however some others were still lenient.
On why the burden of the disease was still high in Nigeria, the pediatrician said this was because enlightened people, who should know better, still take the risk of marrying people with incompatible genotypes instead of advocating against it.
“In spite of this burden, people go into relationship even when they are aware of their genotype as AS.
“But we have been counseling people to ensure that those with genotype AS do not marry someone with genotype AS or SS.
“Instead they should marry people with AA so that whichever way it turns out, the worst scenario is to have a child with AS.
“However, we have people going into marriage out of having waited for long or having gone deep into relationship before knowing that the other partner has genotype AS.
“Also, there are a few who are actually victims of wrong laboratory results where they actually tested AA before marriage but along the line they discover that they are actually AS, but this is not a significant number.” (NAN