Interstate lockdown making life difficult for sicklers – Liman

Muhammad Kafi Liman is the Chairman of Sickle Cell Aid Foundation, Shira Local Government Area, Bauchi State. In this interview with ALI GARBA, he laments the shortage of blood bags, high cost of drugs, and other sundry issues affecting sickle cell patients as a result of interstate border closures. Excerpt

As the Chairman of Sickle Cell Aid Foundation, Shira Local Government Area of Bauchi State, what message do you intend to pass to the general public?

On behalf of my members who are sickle cell patients and have been suffering from the disease not only in my local government but the country as a whole, I want to make complaints to both the federal, state and local governments over the issue of the national lockdown that has restricted the movements of people in many parts of Nigeria.

We want to make our complaints about the interstate lockdown known to the federal government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari and Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC). This is because the lockdown has worsened our condition.

How has the lockdown, as you said, imposed hardship on the lives of your members?

The lockdown has affected us by putting our lives at risk and making us live in constant fear over the non-availability or shortage of palliative drugs for sickle cell anaemia. It has also led to a shortage of nutritious food necessary for the production of red blood cells.

The government and other stakeholders are taking drastic measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 without taking us, sickle cell anemia patients, into consideration.

We want to plead with the federal government to help supply medication and humanitarian aids for sickle cell patients, most especially at this critical moment of the lockdown.

Up till now, we have not heard that any level of the government assisted people living with sickle cell anaemia in this country. This means that the government has failed to ensure the protection of my members against the novel coronavirus and also failed to create awareness and educate sickle cell patients on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Therefore, we want to draw the attention of the federal government to the shortage of medicine we experience. We demand that the government protect us like everyone else and design some policies and programmes for our benefit so that we can have easy and free access to medication and food supplements. All sickle cell patients in the country, especially the less privileged among us who can hardly survive this lockdown without support, should not be allowed to suffer any shortage of drugs.

Apart from what you have just demanded from the government, what else do you want?

My call to this Government under President Muhammadu Buhari is that it should relax the stay at home order. This is because we are facing harsh conditions under the lockdown. Even before it, we had been suffering because of the government’s inability to assist us, and we could barely afford to buy drugs, particularly blood tonic, because they were exorbitant.

We used to buy a blood bag at the rate of N2,000, but with the government-imposed extended restrictions on movement, its price increased. This high cost of essential products has destabilised our lives. We are not condemning the government’s action, rather we are appealing that it should be sensitive to the needs of sickle cell patients; the government may want to dialogue with sickle cell patients on how they are coping and the assistance they may need.

What you are saying in essence, is that the lockdown has made the price of sickle cell medication go up. If that is so, how?

Yes, when I paid a visit to both public and private hospitals and some Chemists in Bauchi State some days after the enforcement of the lockdown, I noticed that the price of a blood bag had risen from N2,000 to N3,000 and N4,000 in public and private hospitals respectively.

On the order hand, sickle cell relief medications in public and private hospitals as well as medicine stores, the story is different because of the high cost of medicines, and we must use the medications to live a better life because our entire patients are under terrible situation because of the inadequacy of red blood cell which made us fall sick most of the time.

When I asked for the price of anti-malaria medicine, the price had almost doubled going by what it was before the lockdown. We are unable to cope with this high cost of essential drugs. Therefore, we are crying out to the government to take note of our pitiable condition and alleviate our suffering through the provision of subsidies.

The Sickle Cell Aid Foundation has not received assistance from either the state or federal government so we want to appeal to the government to relax this lockdown or assist us with free or subsidised medication. We hope that the federal government, non government organisations (NGOs), philanthropists, and the well-to-do in society will empathise with us under this lockdown and help us.

The New Telegraph gathered from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that Nigeria accounts for more than 100,000 new sickle cell births every year. Statistics from the African region of the World Health Organisation (WHO) puts the prevalence of sickle cell anaemia in Nigeria between 20 per cent and 30 per cent. In Sub-Saharan Africa, very few control programmes exist for sickle cell patients, and those that are, lack national coverage or the facilities to manage patients. Hence, there is a need for urgent intervention from all the levels of the government and donor agencies to help sickle cell patients in Nigeria.




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