Sickle cell patients in Cameroon on this year’s World Sickle Cell Day on June 19, asked to be given additional care and support. They say the genetic disorder primarily seen in people of African descent puts them more at risk of COVID-19.
About 200 sickle cell patients visited hospitals and the Cameroon Red Cross office in the capital Yaoundé, Friday to complain that they were being sidelined in efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus in the central African state. Forty-year old Dieudonne Mackiti, father of two children living with the disease, says he expects the government to provide face masks and hand sanitizers free of charge and to ask hospitals to give preferential treatment to sickle cell patients when they visit.
He says he has come out on World Sickle Cell Day to ask the government to pay more attention to its citizens who are living with the genetic disorder and are more likely to have severe complications and die if they are infected with COVID-19. He says he believes that one of his two sons living with sickle cell contracted COVID-19 at the hospital he took the child to for regular health care.
Mackiti said his family was ostractized by his neighbors after information that his son tested COVID-19 positive leaked. He said the stigma from COVID-19 combined with age-old superstitious beliefs that sickle cell is divine punishment for wrongdoing and that children with the disease are mysterious was making live very difficult for his family.
Cameroon’s health ministry says sickle cell patients already have respiratory difficulties which may be very complicated and difficult to handle should they be infected with COVID-19. It says people living with blood disorders such as sickle cell disease have an increased risk of developing serious COVID-19 symptoms and recommends that they should stock up on essential medicines and supplies that can last for several weeks.
Laurantine Mandeng of the Cameroon Association of Young Sickle Cell Patients says most sickle cell patients in Cameroon are poor and cannot raise money to buy COVID-19 protection kits.
Mandeng says only the Cameroon Red cross has been able to assist them with face masks and hand sanitizers. She says she asked that the supplies should be sent to associations of sickle cell patients and specialized hospitals that take care of people living with the genetic disorder because she does not want sickle cell patients to be infected with COVID-19 when they visit regular hospitals.
Cameroon health minister Manaouda Malachie says sickle cell patients like other Cameroons will be given free face masks, buckets and soap and hand sanitizers to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
Manaouda says he has observed that some sickle cell patients just like many other Cameroonians are refusing to obey barrier measures like keeping a distance of at least a meter and a half from each other, washing hands regularly or using hand sanitizers and wearing face masks. He says for Cameroon to be saved from the killer virus, all its citizens including sickle cell patients must observe measures the government has put in place to stop COVID-19.
Cameroon says the prevalence of sickle cell is 20 percent among its 25 million population. Sickle cell is an inherited red blood cell disorder in which there aren’t enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body of patients.