Sickle Cell Anemia Impacts Black Community at Disproportionate Rates

In Summary

As Sickle Cell Awareness Month comes to a close, advocates are raising awareness about the genetic blood disorder that originated in sub-saharan Africa and affects people from India as well as the Mediterranean and Hispanic communities. 

Approximately 100,000 Americans have the sickle cell anemia genetic blood disorder, which impacts 1 out of every 365 African Americans. 

The disease causes red blood cells to harden into a sickle, or ‘C’ shape, versus being round, blocking oxygen from traveling throughout the body. 

RELATED: OP-ED: Uplifting Americans with Sickle Cell Disease 

The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America president Beverley Francis-Gibson says many patients describe the “excruciating pain” as having razor blades traveling throughout the body. 

Raising awareness is also a key initiative for Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI), the first non-profit created by Black women to help advance the health and wellness of Black women and girls.

Historically, African Americans have been used as guinea pigs in medical experiments, which speaks to the hesitancy and resistance of individuals participating in clinical trials.

The organizations provide information to patients so they can manage their pain, including staying hydrated, avoiding extreme cold or hot temperatures and ensuring people understand the importance of good nutrition and getting enough rest. 

Francis-Gibson also encourages people to get vaccinated for COVID-19 because people with sickle cell disease are more susceptible to both the flu and the virus. 

RELATED: Mental health best practices for the Black community, marginalized populations 

Sickle cell disease is not to be confused with the trait, which more than 2 million people in the US aren’t aware they’re currently living with. It’s important to know your status and get educated, says Francis-Gibson, because if two individuals with the trait procreate, there’s a 25% chance the child will have the disease. 

The mortality rate for those battling sickle cell disease used to be 30% to 45%, but people have started living longer because they’ve learned how to manage it. There are long-term effects though, which include kidney damage, stroke, hip replacement, vision problems and blindness and delayed growth.

Check out more from BNC’s Black Women’s Health Initiative here.

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