What is sickle cell disease?
A WIDESPREAD GENETIC DISEASE
Sickle cell anaemia is a serious hereditary genetic disease affecting the red blood cells. It is characterized by an abnormal haemoglobin, the protein that transports oxygen in the bloodstream.
It is not a rare disease: it is particularly common in populations originating from sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, India, the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin. In Belgium, it has become the most common genetic illness due to
migratory flows, and poses a genuine public health
For those suffering from severe forms, the disease greatly diminishes their quality of life:
- Periods of seizures can be very painful (the pain felt may exceed that of childbirth).
- Complications may arise (stroke, renal and/or liver failure, ulcers, etc.).
- Treatments are cumbersome and inconvenient, hospitalisations are a regular occurrence.
- Having sickle cell anaemia also means having to avoid certain activities (high-intensity sports, intense heat, activities at high altitude or in the cold, etc.) which seem normal to everyone, or surrounding them with multiple precautions.
TREATMENTS INCLUDE: BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS
Treatment includes, among other things, occasional or regular blood transfusions (for example, every 6 weeks) in 70% of patients, sometimes from a very early age.
It is imperative to transfuse the person with blood which is as close to their own as possible to be compatible. In the event of incompatibility, the patient will sometimes generate antibodies to red blood cells they have received (this is allo-immunisation), which can render the transfusion ineffective and even, in the worst-case scenario, endanger their life. This compatibility is all the more important in the event of regular transfusions, which is the case for many people who have this disease.
THE MOST WIDELY AVAILABLE BLOOD GROUPS ARE NOT ALWAYS THE MOST COMPATIBLE
Each person has a unique blood group, inherited from their parents and therefore influenced by their origins. This means that the chances of finding compatible blood are greater if the donor and recipient share the same origins.
Currently in Belgium, there are significant differences between the blood groups of donors (mostly of Caucasian origin) and those of patients·with sickle cell anaemia who, depending on their origins, tend to have a rare blood group for our country.