Callousness stymied Chhattisgarh's fight against sickle cell disease

The prevalence of sickle cell anaemia is pegged at around around 15 per cent in Chhattisgarh state, the highest in the country.
File Photo for Representational Purposes.
File Photo for Representational Purposes.

RAIPUR: The prevalence of sickle cell anaemia is pegged at around around 15 per cent in Chhattisgarh state, the highest in the country. It took thirteen years to plan for effective counter measures against the disorder by declaring a dedicated institute.

The state, carved out of undivided Madhya Pradesh in 2000, however continues to sit on its plan for another three years and could barely fill 26, mostly administrative, out of the sanctioned 180 posts for the sickle cell institute for which the government is still looking for land.

The “lackadaisical” approach to restrain the prevalence of the disorder had fetched nothing more than “some research works" and the “half-baked” scrutiny (screening) of the disease by the institute in 12 districts out of the 27.

Sickle cell anaemia is a hereditary blood disorder in which the red blood cells (RBC) assume abnormal, rigid, sickle shape resulting in various complications and leading to shortening of life-expectancy. 

The disease, according to doctors, can progress silently even without symptoms and so they strongly recommend the potential risky group to get screened, counselled and treated.

In India, the sickle cell disorder has been largely traced in Chhattisgarh, Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, western Odisha, some parts of Kerala and Gujarat, said Dr P K Patra, director general, Sickle Cell Institute Chhattisgarh.

In 2010, Chief Minister Raman Singh thought of setting up sickle cell institute. The initiative was taken up in 2013 with the approval of 180 posts, health minister Ajay Chandrakar told the Assembly.

The minister said that 154 posts of the sanctioned 180 are lying vacant and they include doctors, medical officers
besides the supporting paramedical staff.

The government claimed the figure of 26 lakh of the 2.25 crore people in the state affected by the disorder, based on the surveys conducted among school students has been “underestimated”.

“We have scrutinised around a dozen districts and examined some 16 lakh students between 3-15 years. We found the prevalence rate to be around 10 per cent,” Dr Patra told the New Indian Express.

Experts cite the actual figures to be higher than the government’s estimate. “About 15 per cent of the population is affected. The official scrutiny limited to only school students will not reflect on the actual prevalent numbers,” said Dr A R Dalla, president Project Sickle Cell (Chhattisgarh) - a dedicated voluntary mission since 2001 in the state.

“The efforts so far has remained restricted to research and academic pursuit rather than countering the problem at the grassroots level, beginning from the primary health centre onward to district hospitals," Dr Dalla, who was also former Chairman of state unit of Indian Red Cross Society, told TNIE.

“The urgency and seriousness to counter sickle cell disease are missing. What has the state been doing during the last six years? Filling only the administrative posts and leaving 154 important posts vacant?” asked Amit Jogi, legislator of Chhattisgarh Janta Congress (J) party, who raised the issue during question hour.

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