The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is observing World Sickle Cell Day by encouraging access to treatment and asking more residents to make life-saving blood donations. World Sickle Cell Day is June 19 and annually sheds light on the millions around the world who suffer from the disease, including more than 100,000 Americans.
Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is an inherited blood disorder caused by distorted red blood cells. While healthy red blood cells are round and move through small blood vessels to carry oxygen to all parts of the body, individuals with SCD have some red blood cells that are hard, sharp, and shaped like a crescent moon. These cells die early resulting in anemia or can get stuck in blood vessels causing complications such as blood clots, extreme pain, and organ damage.
SCD disproportionately affects those of African descent, with one in every 13 African Americans being carriers of the sickle cell trait, and one in 365 African Americans having the disease. DHEC’s goal of keeping individuals and communities informed about the daily struggles of those with the disease, and debunking stereotypes and stigmas associated with persons who have SCD, coincide with the agency’s efforts to eliminate health disparities.
“We’ve known for some time that there are major disparities in our healthcare system, and that unfortunately extends to sickle cell patients who are often stigmatized for needing pain medication,” said Malerie Hartsell, the Bleeding Disorders Program Manager in DHEC’s Division of Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs (CYSHCN). “In reality, sickle cell patients are courageous fighters who deserve quality treatment and equal care.”
DHEC also encourages South Carolinians to donate blood, since blood transfusions are one of the most critical treatments for sickle cell patients and literally saves lives. Donations are strongly encouraged from those in the African American community since transfusions from people of the same race are more likely to be a match. Visit the American Red Cross site to find a location to donate.
In 2018, DHEC along with other members of the South Carolina Sickle Cell Disease Advocacy Team, created the SC Sickle Cell State Plan to address the care and treatment of those living with SCD across their lifespans. The agency’s CYSHCN Division assists those with Sickle Cell Disease who meet the eligibility requirements by covering services such as medical expenses, physician visits, durable medical equipment, and prescription drugs.
Visit DHEC’s page for additional details on the agency’s sickle cell efforts, and the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America for more information on national efforts.