MELODY MUPETA, Kitwe
EMELDA Chibwe, 30, a Kitwe resident who has sickle-cell anaemia, recalls how agonising it was to stand in a long queue for several hours
with excruciating body pains to access treatment at Kitwe Teaching Hospital (KTH).
This was before the establishment of the Sickle Cell -Disease (SCD) Club at the health institution.
Ms Chibwe testifies that living with sickle-cell anaemia is not an easy thing, and an unfriendly health system can make it worse. But she says that she has seen KTH, an institution she has been frequenting over the years, transform into a user-friendly medical facility for people with sickle-cell anaemia.
Though not given much publicity like other diseases, sickle-cell anaemia is one of the diseases that Zambia is grappling with.
Sickle-cell disease (SCD) is an inherited red blood cells disorder.
The disease is not contagious but is passed on by genes from parents to their children. People who have SCD inherit abnormal hemoglobin genes from each parent. In other words, people with SCD have abnormal hemoglobin or sickle hemoglobin in their red blood cells. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.
Normally hemoglobin in red blood cells takes oxygen from the lungs to all the tissues in the body, but sickle hemoglobin slows down the flow of blood. Red blood cells in people with SCD die early, causing a shortage of healthy cells and this may reduce the supply of oxygen to the tissues.
It’s the low supply of oxygen to the tissues that causes sudden attacks in people with sickle-cell, resulting in severe pain, called the sickle cell crisis.
In an effort to facilitate medical care for patients in a less stressful environment, Government has facilitated the establishment of SCD clubs in Livingstone, Ndola, Lusaka and Kitwe.
At a SCD Club, patients are usually given identity cards, which enable them to receive medical treatment quickly, instead of standing in a queue when they are not feeling well.
At KTH about 650 people have registered at the SCD Club and Ms Chibwe is happy to be among the people that are receiving treatment under the club.
“Before the Sickle Cell Disease Club was introduced here at Kitwe Teaching Hospital, it was hectic for us to access treatment. We would wait in the queue for long hours despite being in pain,” she says.
Ms Chibwe, a resident of Mindolo township, narrates that during childhood she had it rough because she often had to frequent hospitals because of her condition.
She said as she grew older, the disease came with excruciating pain and she would be rushed to the hospital where she had to stand in long queues to see a doctor.
Ms Chibwe said the SCD Club is helping patients to receive treatment at health centres without enduring the hustle of long queues.
With the introduction of the club, Ms Chibwe has a membership card and she no longer has to wait in a long queue to see a doctor.
She is commending Government for introducing the SCD clubs, and making it possible for her to access medical check-ups on a monthly basis.
Kitwe district commissioner Binwell Mpundu says the establishment of the club at KTH is a step in the right direction towards mitigating the disease burden on patients.
Mr Mpundu said Government will continue to put in place measures that are aimed at improving the well-being of people living with sickle-cell.
And Prince Mateyo, 22, a Chimwemwe resident, who at press time was admitted to KTH, commended Government for establishing the SCD Club at the health facility and making it possible for patients to receive treatment without delay.
“I came to the hospital crying because the pain was unbearable. The doctors and nurses quickly attended to me upon seeing that I was a member of the Sickle Cell Disease Club,” he said from his hospital bed.
With a smile on his face, Prince said he hopes that the clubs will be introduced in all district hospitals to make it easy for sickle-cell patients to access treatment in good time.
Meanwhile, Jane Nachilima, 36, a mother of three, two of them living with SCD, says previously it was not easy to stand in a long queue when her children were experiencing severe pain.
Ms Nachilima says with the establishment of the SCD Club, she is now able to get her children attended to by medical personnel without delay.
The SCD Club is also helping her two children to attend school regularly because they are now given drugs to prevent infections.
She said the opening of the club is a step in the right direction in reducing the disease burden.
And KTH senior paediatrician consultant Jerome Sulubani says the SCD Club at the health institution was opened in 2015 and it is greatly helping medical personnel to quickly administer treatment to the patients.
“The actual number of people receiving treatment for sickle-cell at the hospital is 650, but the number is expected to rise due to random tests being carried out [on people suspected to be carriers of sickle-cell],” Dr Sulubani said.
Dr Sulubani, who is Kitwe SCD Club president, said patients visit the institution on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. They normally receive antibiotics and hydroxyurea, a new drug which patients are encouraged to take on a daily basis.
Among the 650 members of the SCD Club in Kitwe, some come from as far as Lufwanyama, Kalulushi, Mufulira, Chambeshi and Mwinilunga.
Dr Subulani said the SCD has no cure, but the disease burden can be reduced by ensuring that would-be couples get tested before having children to ascertain whether they are carriers of the sickle-cell gene.
He said there is need to prioritise sickle-cell as one of the diseases needing massive support just like HIV and AIDS.