DHEC recognizes World Sickle Cell Day, provides assistance programs

COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — Along with Juneteenth celebrations, DHEC also recognizes June 19th as World Sickle Cell Day.

According to the CDC, around one to three million Americans are born with the sickle cell trait — with around 100,000 of those Americans developing sickle cell disease.

Malerie Hartsell with DHEC explains sickle cell disease is caused by abnormal hemoglobin — the protein that carries oxygen through the blood, saying, “When someone has sickle cell disease, their blood cells change shape and they become hard and sticky, and they sort of take on the shape of a crescent moon, hence the name sickle.”

While the disease can affect any race, the CDC reports it’s most predominant in the Black and African American population — occurring in one out of every 365 births.

Hartsell says while health disparities continue to play a role in the impact the disease has on the Black community, DHEC offers several programs to help anyone who is diagnosed –including its Newborn Screening Program which provides ongoing care for children, and transitional care into its Sickle Cell Disease Program for adults.

“We also provide financial assistance for medical services, supplies, and equipment and prescription medications as part of this sickle cell program we have within our division. As part of our adult side, we partner with a company called Excelsior Health Incorporated where we’re able to provide premium insurance to a small population of individuals…” says Hartsell.

Individuals often need blood transfusions to help treat the pain of sickle cell disease.

“It helps to replace those sickled blood cells with healthy red blood cells that have oxygen steady flowing through them that helps to improve the oxygen level flowing through the body,” Hartsell says.

The American Red Cross reports some antigens and proteins found on red blood cells are unique to specific ethnic and racial groups.

“So if someone is of African American or Black descent and they have sickle cell disease and they need a blood transfusion, they would probably find the most compatibility from someone within their own race, and that would reduce the risk of complications from that blood transfusion,” Hartsell says.

DHEC plans to launch a voluntary patient registry later this year to help patients and doctors make more informed treatment decisions.

“The more individuals that do talk about it, the more who are educated about it, the more likelihood it will lead to… hopefully… a cure one day in the future for those living with sickle cell disease,” Hartsell says.

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