It is Unfortunate That There Are Still Cases Of Sickle Cell - Bishop Ezeokafor


 By Abuchi Onwumelu
The Catholic  bishop of Awka Diocese, HisLordship Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor hasdescribed as unfortunate the rampant casesof sickle cell in Nigeria.
In this interview withhis Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Mr. AbuchiOnwumelu, the Catholic prelate speaks on issues bordering about Sickle Cell Anemia and as it concerns the Church.
 Research has it that, despite the fact that we now live in an information age, babies with sickle cell anemia are still being born. How do you react to this and what is the Church doing to stem this tide?

It is unfortunate that there are still cases of sickle cell anemia. One would expect that as the awareness of the challenges that sickle cell anemia poses to those who suffer from it, determined steps would have been taken to ensure that no one is born with that condition. This is however not the case as a result of a lot of factors. First, in as much as we can be said to be in the information age, it has to be noted that what has happened is that it is easier to access information now than in previous years. This does not however mean that the average level of awareness of socio-economic, political and medical issues in our community is satisfactory. It is still the case that so much of the information out there in the public domain are inaccessible to many people in our communities, either because of illiteracy or poor educational background. So, I will not be surprised that many people in our communities do not know much about sickle cell anemia and therefore cannot be expected to take the necessary precautions to prevent more people coming into the world with that condition. The second point is that the health challenges that those with sickle cell anemia put up with are sometimes explained in terms of what is called “spiritual attack.” This diagnosis favors resort to deliverance prayers, vigils and other spiritual exercises as remedies. Some of the so-called men and women of God who propagate such views about illnesses hijack consciousness and channel it to the spiritual realm with the result that the precautions that should be taken to forestall such illnesses are completely ignored. As already said, it is quite unfortunate that there is such a level of ignorance and misinformation in our communities.
As always and in line with the Biblical injunction in Ecclesiasticus 38:1-15, the Church champions the cause that the intellect given to human beings by God is for a purpose. Science and technology, rightly understood and practiced, are part of God’s providential plan for guiding the world. Therefore, the Church takes seriously the scientific finding that the health challenges faced by patients of sickle cell anemia are rooted in the genetic endowment they receive from their parents. Consequently, the Church makes it mandatory that intending couples should know their genotypes. The Church also discourages people most likely to have babies with sickle cell anemia from getting married to each other. This way, if people most likely to beget children with sickle cell anemia are discouraged from getting married, the condition will resolve itself over time.
One of the major challenges of sickle cell patients is that of stigmatization, both from immediate family members and the general public. How is the Church helping to correct people’s wrong perception of sickle cell carriers?
The greatest source of the stigmatization of sickle cell patients is the interpretation of the phenomenon in terms of “ogbanje” or in terms of malevolent spirits who decide to be born as human beings in order to cause misery to their families through their health challenges. In these interpretations, the sickle cell patient is treated as if he or she is not a patient but the agent of the misery of the parents. Such perspectives are heightened by the interpretation of sickle cell anemia in terms of “spirit forces.” The Church however defends the medical interpretation of sickle cell anemia. From this medical point of view, sickle cell patients are rather victims of the ignorance or the foul-hardy decisions of their parents who have the genetic pre-disposition that could result in the begetting of offsprings with sickle-cell anemia. Sickle cell patients are therefore entitled to the support of the society and should not be treated otherwise.
Many folks have hidden behind the name – Sickle Cell Foundation – to rip off the gullible well-meaning members of the public, when their foundation makes no impact whatsoever on those living with sickle-cell anemia. How does his Lordship react to this trend?
This is really unfortunate if such foundations for sickle cell patients make no impact on the lives of those it is established to serve. If this lack of impact is as a result of ineffectiveness on the part of those concerned, I would beg that something be done immediately so that the foundation serves those it is set up to serve. If however, such foundations are set up with the fraudulent intention of ripping off well-meaning members of the public, the act is despicable.
Recently, people living with sickle cell anemia have decided to take the bull by the horn by going about more intensive sensitization project, starting from Anambra State. How can the Church partner with them in realizing this cause?
I am happy that those living with sickle cell anemia have taken up their cause. They are indeed the best placed to champion it. This neither disqualifies other people who are not facing this challenge from championing the same cause nor should suspicion be raised that advocates who are not sickle cell patients are out to feed fat on other people’s difficulties. This is because none sickle cell patients might have been motivated to champion the cause either because they lost friends, relatives and loved ones to the complications of sickle cell anemia and therefore decided to join the fight against this preventable medical condition or because they are genuinely interested in the eradication of this condition. I am making this clarification because the Church is already committed to the cause of stopping sickle cell anemia by addressing the root cause. A lot more can still be done to sensitize our people. Indeed, the Church is ready and willing to partner with any group to do this. To the glory of God, the return of schools to their original owners by the administration of the erstwhile governor of Anambra State, His Excellency, Chief, Sir Peter Obi, means that the Church has the platform to carry out this advocacy. The schools can serve as launching pad for such sensitization efforts. But before the schools can be effectively used, a whole lot has to be done first – the teachers have to be educated, teaching and learning materials have to be provided, etc.
One of the prime suspects that runs Sickle Cell Foundation Nigeria, has been contacted by a reporter and from his response it was gathered that he neither has offices in the South-east, nor representatives, yet he added the prefix ‘Nigeria’ to his foundation. It was also gathered that he has collected some multiple millions from the federal government and yet he has not impacted on the lives of sickle cell patients. How would you react to this?
Well, I will not quarrel with him for adding the prefix ‘Nigeria’ to his Foundation even if it has nothing on ground in the South-east. I am more interested in what he is spending the millions he has received on and on whether the failure of the Foundation to impact on the lives of sickle cell patients is due to poor management or embezzlement of funds. If he has spent commensurate sum of money on anything related to the fight against sickle cell anemia, even if not in the South-east, I will congratulate him while drawing his attention to the South-east as also needful of such efforts. But if he has mismanaged the grants received or diverted it to other purposes, I can only say that he is feeding fat on the misery of other people and should desist from doing so and change his ways.


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