SICKLE CELL ANEMIA One of the most common and serious of all childhood diseases, sickle cell anemia is confined primarily to the black population. Between 40,000 and 70,000 black Americans are currently suffering from the disease, which affects approximately one in every five hundred black children born in the United States. In addition, approximately two million Afro-Americans carry the sickle cell trait or gene (which itself is benign and harmless) and could produce anemic children if their mate also possessed the trait.
Killing many of its victims before middle-age, sickle cell anemia is caused by the distortion of regular red blood cells into a crescent or sickle shape. Such cells have difficulty in passing through small blood vessels, thereby creating "jam-ups" which prevent vital oxygen from reaching body tissues. Symptoms of the disease include impaired growth, jaundice, kidney malfunction and increased susceptibility to general infection. Although presently incurable, available treatment has improved and federally-funded medical research into the disease has been increased since President Richard Nixon in 1971 admitted that "it is a sad and shameful fact that the causes of this disease have been largely neglected throughout our history."
On a more positive note, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute reported in 2007 that many advances in the treatment of the disease have occurred in the past thirty years and that
"many people with the condition live close to normal lives and are in fairly good health much of the time. These people can live into their forties or fifties, or longer."