Worried by the gross ignorance of Nigerians about their sickle cell status, Professor Bosede Afolabi, has asserted that one in four Nigerians lives with the sickle cell traits unknowingly, while she has called on the federal government for a national policy on universal new-born screening to enable everyone know their genotypes towards ending sickle cell disease.
Afolabi, a professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, made this submission at the 341st Inaugural Lecture of the University of Lagos in Akoka on Wednesday, where she delivered a lecture titled, ‘Maternal Medicine: Journeys of Women in Pregnancy, Delivery and Sickle Cell Disease.’
She explained the urgent need for such a national policy on universal new-born screening, stating that many Nigerians, especially those in the rural areas do not know their genotypes, while they are carriers of the sickle cell traits.
Thus, to prevent further procreation of children with the trait, she pleaded with the government to support the establishment of this national policy on Universal New-born Screening.
She said: “If they are aware and decide to carry on a relationship with another person with the sickle cell trait, then at least they do so with the knowledge of the consequence and can plan for it. The government also needs to commit more resources to the care of people with this disorder by contributing to research and counselling, as well as subsidising their health care expenses.”
Speaking on family planning and the misconception of people against it, Afolabi refuted the different misconception attributed to it, saying contraceptives do not make women gain weight or delay pregnancy, as some erroneously claimed.
“The government should ensure free access to family planning and contraception to reduce deaths from unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion. Limiting pregnancy also reduces deaths from pregnancy, as maternal deaths can only occur if a woman gets pregnant. People often talk of the side effects of contraceptives but even Paracetamol has side effects. Pregnancy has more side effects than all the contraceptives combined and so does unsafe abortion.
“The truth is that contraception does not stop you from getting pregnant when you are ready to. It also does not cause weight gain in most women. Most of these statements are untrue; so please let us encourage all women and men of reproductive age to avail themselves of contraception and reduce maternal deaths.”
The professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, however posited the removal of the barrier of cost and allowing free antenatal and delivery care for all women to ensure skilled health care at delivery, “either by taxing specific consumer items or by developing a mobile subscription-based community health insurance, because I know the money has to come from somewhere and I don’t think the government has the ability to pay for everything.
“The point is to make maternal healthcare free and this has been attempted and shown to work in Ondo State where they met the Millennium Development Goals for the reduction of maternal mortality”, she explained.