Teacher uses daughter’s case to stop sickle cell anaemia from claiming lives

Sickle cell anaemia silent epidemic. Photo Courtesy
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At only two years old, Moses was diagnosed with malaria. It was one of the lowest and testing moments in his life and that of his family.

For more than nine years, Moses was in and out of hospital so many times that he views St Elizabeth Lwak Mission Hospital’s wards as his second home.

“Moses was our regular client since he could be admitted in our health facility almost every week,” says Consolata Oluoch, a nursing officer at the facility.

In the beginning, whenever he was in pain, he would be rushed to the hospital for treatment but the doctors would only misdiagnose him.

Moses has thus spent a great deal of his life not only fighting sickle cell anaemia, but also taking drugs for ailments he did not have.

Malaria, for instance, seemed the doctors’ easiest excuse to send him to the pharmacy.

Moses was constantly taunted by his schoolmates and some relatives. The stigma was often worse than the pain, he says, and at one point he was tempted to drop out of school.

Moses’s parents worried that their son was always going down with malaria and that is when then they decided to seek a second opinion.

Moses, who is now in Form Three, was to be diagnosed with sickle cell anaemia.

As a family they had battled the disease together for years, and through a lot of reading sickle cell-related literature, his father, Martin Oracha, a primary school teacher embarked on a mission to not only save his son’s life but that of the entire community.

Today, Moses who wants to be a neurosurgeon has outlived the taunts to celebrate his 16th birthday earlier this year.

Quinter Achieng, another victim of the disease, is looking forward to her 17 birthday. For a person who has lived with the condition, this would be a major milestone because most victims die young.

But, like Moses, Quinter has paid a high price for her condition, not least of all staying in and out of school.

“My daughter’s condition was something I was giving up on. I even vowed never to give birth again for fear of giving birth to a child with the same condition,” says Debra Onyango, Quinter’s mother.

“After reading a lot of sickle cell anaemia related books, I realised that the disease had no cure. The use of traditional medicine came into my mind and I started consulting with elders in my village,” Onyango told The Reject.

According to Oracha, who is also a member of Siaya County Sickle Cell Foundation, Martinoscam, which is a product of assorted herbal plants, helps in enhancing growth, improving immunity and clears pot belly.

According to Oracha, Martinoscam which is administered in liquid form is taken twice a day for six months.

“Children take a quarter of glass twice a day, in the morning and evening while an adult takes a glass twice per day,” explains Oracha.

Blood transfusion is used in the treatment and the sickle cell disease. Blood may be administered in emergency situations as a simple top-up transfusion or as an automated or manual exchange procedure.

This way, Oracha says, the medicine has the ability to boost blood for sickle cell anaemia patients and hence reduce blood transfusion cases.

When The Reject visited Oracha’s home in Memba sub-Location, Rarieda sub-County, 15 kilometres away from Bondo town, Onyango was among the tens of guests who regularly throng the teacher’s home to get a dose of the herbal ‘cure’ for sickle cell anaemia.

“We advise that anybody suspecting a sickle cell disease to go to the hospital. We thereafter administer Martinoscam to the patient upon referral by a medical practitioner,” explains  Oracha adding that the “medicine are consumed together with the conventional drugs such as folic acid and Paludrine”.

He says that after admitting the patient in his ‘clinic’, he monitors them on a monthly basis. This, he does by following on his admission book which has clients’ contacts.

“This has also helped me in keeping records of my clients,” he explains.

Oracha who now works in collaboration with medical practitioners says that the medicine was registered in 2013 under the Ministry of Home Affairs and Sports Department and Culture and has since been approached by Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) to help in the management of sickle cell anaemia cases in Siaya County by widely availing is herbal drugs.

“In spite the positive steps that I have made in my 10 year research, I still face a few challenges such availability of clean tap water to make the medicine,” says Oracha adding that “the government can also come in and make the medicine in syrup and tablet form for easy accessibility to patients”.

According to Oracha, lack of a blood blank and sickle cell testing equipment in most parts of the county make it very difficult to curb the disease.

He notes: “We want to fight the disease by using very many methods including giving it to expectant mothers in order to have children born free of the disease.”

“Sickle cell anaemia is an inherited disease.

One can also talk to a genetic counsellor if she/he is worried that they might be carriers. This can help you understand possible treatments, preventive measures and reproductive opt,” he says:

“Since we incorporated Martinoscam in the management of sickle cell conditions among patients at the facility in the last one year, the crisis admission rate has dropped from 60 per cent to less than two percent and the sickle cell anaemia wards are often empty,” explains Oluoch.

According to Boniface Leo, a medical practitioner at St Elizabeth Lwak Mission Hospital, diagnosis for sickle cell anaemia varies from one individual to another due to differences in the blood composition.

“Blood has a lot of elements, one of them being globin which, in simple terms, we refer to as chains. During conception, both parents contribute these chains that form the composition of the haemoglobin (an iron-containing protein in blood that carries oxygen from the lungs to body tissues, also referred to as HB), an alpha chain and a beta chain,” explains Leo.

However, he says, there is formation of a third chain called the foetal chain, found in infants. A beta chain responsible for the sickle cell trait at times is usually suppressed by foetal chains which some children retain years after being born, making it difficult to detect the condition.

Leo explains that when red blood cells are malformed, the person could be either a carrier of the disease or a victim, depending on the degree of the malformation.

“In extreme cases — where the patient is not just a carrier, but a victim — the red blood cells turn crescent shaped, making them stiff and fragile, hence clogging the blood vessels, especially around the joints, and depriving the body of oxygen. This causes pain,” Leo explains.

He notes: “A normal red blood cell has a life span of about 120 days while a sickle cell has between 10-20 days.”

According to World Health Organization (WHO), approximately five percent of the world’s population carries trait genes for haemoglobin disorders, mainly, sickle-cell disease and thalassaemia.

Haemoglobin disorders are genetic blood diseases due to inheritance of mutant haemoglobin genes from both, generally healthy, parents.

Over 300,000 babies with severe haemoglobin disorders are born each year.

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