By Nafula Lennah
Thirty-five-year-old veterinary doctor Antony Wesonga from Emalindi in Khwisero Sub County is married to Tracy, 30, a nurse one of the health facilities in Vihiga County.
The couple was blessed with five children, but three died before celebrating their fifth birthday.
“Tom died aged four (first born), Miriam at two (third born) and Jeremy (fifth born) died when he was only 18 months old. We were mentally and emotionally disturbed on what was happening to our young family and thought it was witchcraft,” said Dr Wesonga.
Wesonga said they went to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) where several tests were done and it was discovered that he (Wesonga) had the sickle cell trait but the wife was normal. More tests were done on the family and his mother was also discovered to be a carrier of the sickle cell trait.
He said the fifth born son also has sickle cell anemia but undergoing counseling, he is alive and are managing the condition as per the medics advise.
Wesonga is a statistic of a study done by researchers from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (Mmust) and Ball State University (USA) where it was found that Western and Nyanza regions are leading with cases of sickle cell anemia in the country.
In Western, Kakamega has the highest number of cases of the disease and mortality rate for kids under five years followed by Bungoma, Busia and Vihiga. In Nyanza, Siaya has the highest cases, followed by Kisumu, Homa Bay and Kisii.
This was revealed during a presentation at the 13th International Multi-Disciplinary Conference at Mmust, last week.
Winnie Mucherah, the lead researcher from Ball State University, said the disease, which is genetically inherited is high in areas that are prone to malaria.
Prof Mucherah who has the trait said the most common type is one which results in an abnormality in the oxygen-carrying protein hemoglobin (hemoglobin S) found in red blood cells.
“Of all the cases reported annually in the country, 20-30 per cent are from Western and Nyanza regions. In the world, at least 300,000 infants are born with the disease and 70 per cent of them are from Sub-Saharan Africa,” she said.
She said during the study, they found out families that had children with the disease died before reaching the age of five.
“Majority of them have never been diagnosed and when they died, couples especially mothers were blamed for giving birth to children with the condition,” she said.
Kennedy Bota, the assistant dean at MMUST School of Education said majority of the families with children with the disease and the general public are not even aware of its existence.
“Even medics (nurses) from the health facilities we reached to from the region have little knowledge of the existence of the disease, its diagnosis and management,” said Dr Bota.
He added: “Some of the conditions for a child with sickle cell anemia include: yellowish eyes, delayed growth, frequent infections, swelling of hands and feet, severe dehydration, vision problems, deformed hands and general body pain.”
In addition, he said a boy child with the disease can have a painful erect of close to 30 minutes, which can lead to death. One can also suffer stroke or cardiac arrest if he has the condition.
Linda Siktberg, Director of the School of Nursing, Ball State University, said the condition can be managed if detected early.
Dr Siktberg said Hydroxyurea drugs are used for the treatment of sickle cell anemia, saying it reduces the frequency of painful episodes by 50 per cent and also raises hemoglobin levels in the body.
“Kenya and other developing countries in Africa have the highest number of mortality rates for infants under five years with sickle cell anemia. This disease if well managed, one can live to up to 70 years,” said Dr Siktberg.
Ms Eileen Mulaa, an exercise and sports science expert from the department of Exercise Science and Recreation Sports at Kenyatta University, said treatment of sickle cell anemia is expensive and advised those with the condition to take foods rich in calcium, proteins and zinc.
“They should take millet, Sukuma wiki, ripe bananas, avocado, mangos, groundnuts, vegetables, dried fish, liver, chicken and boiled maize. This food helps in maintain the condition at optimum levels,” said Ms Mulaa.
Mulaa also said they should exercise and take enough water to control the complications associated with the disease. “Some of the exercises is stretches, walking, running, flexing and participate in sporting activities,”