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In this MD Newsline exclusive interview with hematologist/oncologist Dr. Cheryl Mensah, we discuss the impact of sickle cell disease. We also discuss sickle cell disease misdiagnosis, funding, and research.

MD Newsline:

Can you explain why sickle cell disease is an important health issue?

Dr. Cheryl Mensah:

“Sickle cell disease is an important health issue that affects patients of multiple ethnicities in the United States, West Africa, the Mediterranean [region], the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. In the United States, 1 out of every 365 African Americans is born with sickle cell disease, which can lead to pain, organ damage, and even shortened life expectancy. Also 1 out of every 12 African Americans has sickle cell trait, and many are unaware that they can pass the trait on to their children.”

 

MD Newsline:

Is sickle cell disease commonly misdiagnosed? What is it mistaken for?

Dr. Cheryl Mensah:

“Sickle cell disease is commonly misdiagnosed in adults. Sometimes other providers can mistake sickle cell disease for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and iron deficiency anemia. In the United States, it’s misdiagnosed less often in children. There’s a nationwide screening program to diagnose all babies with sickle cell disease when they’re born.

However, depending on which state you were born in and what year you were born, you may not have had this screening, especially if you were born before 2006. Also, if you were born outside of the United States—in West Africa, South America, or the Caribbean—there was no sickle cell screening at all. And so, you may come to America and may get diagnosed once you see a hematologist.”

 

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MD Newsline:

How do sickle cell disease funding and research compare to the funding and research for other diseases?

Dr. Cheryl Mensah:

“So we know that there’s less funding and research for sickle cell disease compared to other chronic health conditions in the United States. There are multiple reasons for these disparities. They have looked at research comparing sickle cell disease to cystic fibrosis, and they found that there were fewer dollars spent per patient from government grants, industry funding, and philanthropic funding.

And so, in general, there is less funding, and historically there’s been less funding for sickle cell disease than for other health conditions in the United States.”

 

Responses have been condensed and lightly edited.

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