Shadow of sickle disease looms over Balaghat areas in MP

1, 500 children diagnosed so far

Governor visits tribal villages, promises pension to patients

Sickle cell disease
Arup Chakraborty/Anand Tamrakar

Balaghat: The sickle cell disease is looming like a shadow of death over many villages in Balaghat district of Madhya Pradesh, according to a recent report of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Chief medical and health officer Dr Manoj Pandey says that 1,500 tribal children have, so far, been diagnosed with the disease in the past one and a half months.

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He says that health officials can test only 30 children a day with the equipment available with them. The figure has rattled the district administration, as well as the government. Madhya Pradesh has already had the highest burden of sickle cell anaemia in India. Governor Mangubhai Chhaganbhai Patel rushed to the villages where the disease was found and said that those suffering from it would get a pension.

He further said that he had started his political career by helping a man afflicted with the  disease about which he barely knew anything then. A study by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) also found that 10%-33% of the tribal population in Madhya Pradesh is sickle gene affected and 0.70% are sickle diseased.

According to the report, the disease is prevalent among the Africans, Arabians and the people of Indian origin. A physician James Harrick first described the characteristics of sickle-shaped red cells after finding them in a medical student from Grenada in 1910. The NRHM report further says that previously, many tribal children suffered from asthma and tuberculosis.

Now, it has come to light that the number of new-borns down with this deadly disease is rising, the report says. A health official in Bhopal says that the fact about the number of patients suffering from the disease has come to light during a campaign launched by the Sickle Cell Anaemia Mission in areas like Baihar, Birsa and Paraswada in Balaghat.

According to him, the campaign is on, and more children are being tested. Once children suffer from this disease, their blood formation stops and they frequently need blood transfusion. Doctors say that such diseases result from the environmental changes and from the parents’ lifestyle-related problems.

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The doctors further say that pneumococcal flu meningococcal vaccines are given to deal with the disease. The vaccines change the abnormal genes, but haemoglobin levels of such patients should not be allowed to go down, they say. Nearly 872 children were diagnosed with the disease between April 19 and April 21, sources in the medical department say.