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Lives at Risk as Hospitals Struggle to Diagnose Sickle Cell in Acholi

Atim revealed to URN that since its establishment, the hospital has been operating without a point-of-care diagnostic machine despite the overwhelming number of patients seeking services. She says four patients have died since October this year.
18 Nov 2020 12:51
Health workers attend to children with sickle cell anemia at the Pediatrics Ward in Lacor Hospital - Photo by Simon Wokorach

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The lives of over 3,000 sickle cell anaemia patients in Acholi are at stake because of the breakdown of the Electrophoresis Machine, which is used to diagnosis the disease.

Of these, 1350 patients mainly children are currently enrolled on treatment at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital, according to Stella Atim, the in-charge of the Palliative Care Unit at the facility.



Atim revealed to URN that since its establishment, the hospital has been operating without a point-of-care diagnostic machine despite the overwhelming number of patients seeking services.  She says four patients have died since October this year.

At St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor, a not for profit-making facility, 1,770 patients with sickle anaemia are enrolled for treatment, according to Dr. Venice Omona, the Head of Pediatrics Department. He says Lacor enrols between 1,500 to 1,800 new patients annually.  

Concy Angee, a resident of Odek Sub County in Omoro District with two children battling sickle cell anaemia, says she has so far spent over 3 million Shillings to care for her ailing children.  

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Samuel Wokorach, a resident of Lii Sub County in Nwoya District has a sibling who has lived with the medical condition for the last 13 years. In Wii Lacic village, over 20 children are living with the condition and unreliable machine has been threatening their lives because the cheapest test costs at least Shillings 40,000 in a private clinic.

According to James Olowo, a Nutritionist with African Nutrition Agency attached to Gulu Regional Referral Hospital, the difficulties in the management of the medical condition has forced many to resort to witchcraft.

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Dr. Omona disclosed that because of the high volume of patients seeking regular care through the recommended tests, the machines constantly break down forcing them to refer patients to private facilities that charge exorbitantly for their services.


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Sickle cell is caused by the group of disorders that affect red blood cells which is inherited by children from their parents and 33,000 babies are reportedly born with the disease annually in Uganda.

Northern Uganda tops the list with the highest prevalence of sickle cell traits at 18.6% followed by Mid-East at 16.7% and South Western at 4.1% respectively, according to the Health Ministry.