Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Mrs. Bridget Ochuko Augustus, a 50-year-old mother of five, has already overcome her major health challenge in life. She is a carrier of the dreaded sickle cell disorder, one of the major irreversible conditions in the world.
But her experience is a declarative affirmation that the disorder is not a death sentence after all. Sharing her experience, Mrs. Augustus said she was diagnosed of sickle cell at the age of three, and her father died when she was 15.
According to her, with determination and adherence to guiding principles, she survived the trauma, attained education to the university level, and has had a stable marriage for over 21 years, with children.
Mrs. Augustus spoke alongside other sickle cell carriers in Asaba, Delta State, during the inauguration of the Sickle Cell Referral Centre built by the 05 Initiative, the pet project of Dame Edith Okowa, wife of the governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa.
The centre, located within the premises of the Specialist Hospital, Asaba, is the second referral centre in Nigeria. It was inaugurated by Mrs. Martha Udom, wife of the Akwa Ibom State governor, recently. In attendance were Mrs. Betsy Obaseki, wife of the Edo State governor, and other dignitaries.
Mrs. Augustus told the gathering: “There is a lifestyle for sickle cell patients who want to stay healthy and alive. Sickle cell disorder is not a death sentence. As for me, in the past nine years I sleep regularly in a mosquito net.
“I eat natural food cooked by me and no opportunity for junk. I live happy at all times; and, above all, I hold my God closely as my only help, strength and healer.”
Mrs. Vera Atagbonna, a 68-year-old retired chief laboratory scientist, said she has been able to survive with the disorder. She said young people who have sickle cell should not despair, as there is a future for them. She encouraged young people to be open with their genotype status to ensure that only the right match with AA and AS/AA and AA can get married.
A judge of the state high court, Justice Timi Excel, who is also a sickle cell carrier, insisted that one could live with sickle cell and make meaning out of life. He advised parents to come to terms with the realities of the disorder, against the superstitions surrounding it.
In a keynote address, Dr. (Mrs.) Annette Akinsete of the National Sickle Cell Centre, Lagos, said that, every year, at least 150,000 children are born with sickle cell disorder in Nigeria and around 100,000 die before they get to the prime of their lives. She said Nigeria should be at the forefront of the fight against the disease.
An orthopaedic surgeon, Professor Iwegbu, highlighted the latest breakthroughs in managing sickle cell disorder, urging carriers not to be discouraged, as the right intervention would address permanently the crises associated with the condition. The professor said sickle cell disorder was not a lost battle as it could be cured through bone marrow transplant.
Dame Edith Okowa said the centre was in fulfilment of her promise to build a world-class sickle cell referral centre in the state to bring succour to carriers, adding that the 05 Initiative had earlier established 12 centres in other areas of the state.
“With the addition of this centre, it brings to 13 the total number of sickle cell clinics established by the 05 Initiative in its relatively short history. The other 12 clinics are at Ughelli, Sapele, Oleh, Kwale, Eku, Patani, Koko, Otu-Jeremi, Agbor, Orerokpe, Issele-Uku and Umunede.
“Every one of these clinics is fitted with modern equipment, quality furniture, and manned by skilled and knowledgeable personnel because, as some of us here may be aware, sickle cell patients face peculiar health challenges, including episodes of pain, frequent infections, delayed growth and vision problems,” she said.
Her husband, Governor Okowa, called on Nigerians to impact positively on people around them as such would foster the spirit of brotherhood.
“I am glad that the 05 Initiative was founded and committed to helping one individual at a time. As Nigerians, if we impact on the life of one person positively, that person will go ahead to impact on the life of another person and within a short period, we will have a country where the people will be willing at all times to help one another,” the governor said.
Chairman on the occasion, Prof. Epiphany Azinge (SAN), scored 05 Initiative high in meeting its vision.
Said he: “Activities of 05 Initiative have blossomed tremendously. The scorecard is impressive, as 05 Initiative is giving hope to the hopeless.
“This sickle cell centre is the second of its kind in Nigeria and I congratulate and commend the founder of 05 initiative, Dame Okowa, for her commitment to leaving a legacy that will endure for all time. This will reduce high mortality rate in persons dealing with sickle cell disorder and I urge every good-spirited individual and agencies to sponsor the programme.”