Medical Director of the Global Sickle Cell Disease Network at the Centre for Global Child Health in Canada, Professor Isaac Odame has advised persons living with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) to strictly adhere to the COVID-19 preventive measures.
According to him, persons living with SCD are at a high risk for severe COVID-19, hence the advice for strict adherence to COVID-19 preventive measures.
In a presentation during a virtual lecture via Zoom on 'Effects of COVID-19 on a Person with SCD', he noted that "the symptoms of COVID-19 and those of SCD are not very different. They include fever, chest pains, difficulty breathing and pneumonia (acute chest syndrome in SCD), end organ damage and kidney failure".
As part of its public awareness activities to mark this year's WSCD, the Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana organised the virtual lecture, which brought together hundreds of health workers, families, persons living with SCD and health experts to deliberate on management of the disease amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was the second annual WSCD lecture of the foundation, and it was themed 'Managing Sickle Cell Disease in the Storm of a Deadly Global Pandemic'. Professor Odame noted that in response to the pandemic, routine outpatient clinics have been suspended or scaled down in most centres.
Telephonic consultations and parental visits for prescriptions without the child, he added, have been encouraged to minimise risk to patients. However, he said, patients with acute illness should have 24-hour access to the emergency room, and only patients who are sick are advised to come to the clinic to be seen.
Head of the Department of Virology at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, University of Ghana, Professor William Ampofo educated participants on the testing procedures for the coronavirus of 2019 in Ghana. He educated participants on the two main patient categories for testing: those showing up at hospitals and suspected cases from contact tracing.
He also spoke of the mandatory screening of people coming in from abroad. Professor Ampofo explained that the adopted national protocol directed that samples from the northern and part of the middle belt of the country be sent to the Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research (KCCR) for testing while Noguchi covered part of the southern and most of the middle zone of Ghana.
He also noted that the government's strategy to close borders early and impose mandatory quarantine on travellers arriving from abroad helped in screening for the virus and revealed several imported cases. "With the help of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), scientific centres and laboratories have been established to aid in the testing for coronavirus, among other diseases", he said.
He also stated that the Komfo Anokye Hospital in Kumasi and the University of Allied Health Sciences in Ho in the Volta Region have also joined in the screening and are currently providing diagnostic testing. In his keynote lecture, ‘Coping with Sickle Cell Disease in the Shadow of the Coronavirus’, the guest speaker for the day, Dr Kofi Anie, Consultant Psychologist at London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust Haematology and Sickle Cell Centre, Central Middlesex Hospital, explained that SCD causes much distress to patients and their families and poses significant psychosocial problems.
Due to lack of knowledge about the disease, coupled with myths and misconceptions, he said, the perception around sickle cell disease is still not favourable. "Some societies believe that someone living with sickle cell disease does not survive beyond childhood. The use of the term 'sickler' by many creates the perception that sickle cell disease patients are always sick", he bemoaned.
He cautioned participants against stigmatisation, saying, "Stigma may only cause loneliness, worry and guilt; it makes people feel devalued, shunned, embarrassed and isolated".
Dr Anie advised people with SCD and their caregivers on how to handle anxiety: Talk to family, friends and health workers about their worries, cross-check information to avoid fear and panic, have personal time and space when needed, talk to children and reassure them, keep a daily routine and structure your day, and, most importantly, maintain social contact.
World Sickle Cell Day is marked on June 19 every year since it was officially designated by the UN in December 2008 and first commemorated in June 2009.
The goal is to increase public knowledge and understanding of SCD and related conditions, as well as the challenges experienced by patients, their families, and healthcare providers.
On World Sickle Cell Day (WSCD) and within the month of June, individuals, groups, and organisations host several activities across the world to further give hope to persons living with the disease to manage the disease and live more normal lives.