|One of every 12 people reading this article has the sickle cell trait in
their body. An inherited, chronic disease most often found among African
Americans, sickle cell anemia is caused by an abnormal type of hemoglobin
(oxygen carrying pigment) called hemoglobin S. It occurs in someone who has
inherited hemoglobin S from both parents. With sickle cell anemia the
victim's red blood cells cannot carry oxygen properly.
According to the Armstead-Barnhill Foundation (ABF), the overall incidence of
sickle cell anemia is eight out of every 100,000 people. However, its
numbers go up among people of color populations. It affects one out of 600
African-American and one out of 1,000 to 1,400 Hispanics.
Because people with the sickle cell trait were more likely to survive malaria
outbreaks in Africa than those with normal hemoglobin, it is believed that
genetically aberrant hemoglobin (sickle cell) evolved as a protection against
malaria. Although it is inherited and present at birth, sickle cell symptoms
usually don't occur until after four months of age.
Sickle cell anemia commonly strikes people from Africa, the Middle East, the
Mediterranean and India. There is currently no known cure, but black groups
such as the Armstead-Barnhill Foundation (ABF) have taken on projects to
better inform the public of the causes, complications and treatment of the
disease. To help offset the lack of awareness of sickle cell anemia, ABF
solicits funds for its research and treatment.
The National Institutes of Health report that approximately $47
million-a-year is spent on sickle cell research. Therapy can manage and
control symptoms resulting from crises. During a crisis, there's a need to
reduce the victim's energy expenditure and oxygen needs. Maintaining
adequate oxygen levels prevents the sickling effect. ABF officials say newer
drugs are being developed to manage the disease. They work with
pharmaceutical companies are developing drugs such as clotrimazole to help
prevent dehydration, which can cause sickling. One drug now being tested
improves the shape of sickled cells so they move through blood vessels more
Bone marrow transplants are currently the only potential cure for sickle cell
anemia. However, it is difficult to find the right bone marrow donor, and
the drugs needed to make the transplant possible are highly toxic.
So, where do the over 50,000 people who have the disease and the 2.5 million
who have the trait turn? The ABF is a private nonprofit 501C-3 sickle cell
research, education and social services organization. It provides services
to individuals and families with either sickle cell anemia, sickle cell
trait, or variants of the disease. They can be reached at
William Reed is the author of "Who's Who in Black Corporate America." For questions or comments email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.