The Bill for an Act to provide for the prevention, control and management of sickle cell and for other purposes, 2017 passed second reading at the Senate on Wednesday.

The Bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Sam Egwu (PDP-Ebonyi) passed first reading on Dec. 3, 2016.

Leading debate on the bill, Egwu lamented the devastating effect of the disease, which is genetically transmitted.

He said statistics available from the World Health Organisation indicated that Nigeria ranked topmost in the number of countries with rising cases of sickle cell anaemia.

“The prevalence of the cell has risen to alarming proportion and little is known about it. This is regrettable because it is avoidable.

“It is genetically transmitted to children when parents marry.

“Sufferers are subjected to constant pains and suffering, hardship and eventual premature death resulting from the regular crisis associated with the disease,’’ he said.

The lawmaker enumerated the objectives of the bill to include greater awareness creation, particularly in the rural areas, where the knowledge of the disease was limited.

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“The purpose of this bill is to curb this preventive massive death and avoidable hardship by requesting a statutory duty of the Federal Government to engage in and encourage the prevention, control and management of sickle cell.

“It will enable the Ministry of Health to direct, coordinate and supervise the prevention, control and management of the disease by performing the function outlined in Section 3 of the bill.

“It will also empower the ministry to aggregate reputable public and private hospitals and medical clinics across the country, especially in the rural areas, to function as participants in the management the disease.

“The bill also empowers the ministry of health to receive donations, literature and other relevant materials from persons, organisations and practice about the sickness and ensure proper utilization of such resources.

“The passage of the bill will also ensure that experts and other stakeholders are committed to tackling the problem through adequate sensitization.

“This is including counselling to prevent persons who are carriers from marrying each other, while looking for standardisation of care for those already living with the disease.

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“The sensitization ought to be carried out particularly in the rural areas, where people are ignorant of the disease and do not carry out the relevant test to ascertain their genotype before getting married.’’

The lawmaker argued that passage of the bill would attract no significant additional cost to the government because there would be no need to set up new bodies.

He added that the responsibilities would be carried out by the ministry of health in conjunction with relevant existing bodies.

Contributing, Sen. Gbenga Ashafa (APC-Lagos) said that the pains of families and friends of sufferers could only be imagined.

While blaming the increasing rate of the disease to ignorance, he said that the passage of the bill would help in widening people’s knowledge on the problem.

“I have seen a friend, who three out of his children suffered from the ailment; unfortunately the suffering and amount of money spent was a waste because they died.

“As a vibrant arm of government I believe that we can help. It is ignorance most of the time,’’ he said.

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Sen. Stella Oduah (PDP-Anambra) said that the passage of the bill would help Nigerians, particularly those in rural areas to be more aware of the disease.

She said that churches, these days, did not consent to marriage unless with blood test.

“The bill when passed will save lives, especially if we prioritise enlightenment.’’

In his remarks, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided at the plenary, said that a lot would be achieved with the passage of the bill.

He said, “many years ago children used to die before their fifth birthday and we called them `ogbanje’ (evil children).

“However, with the awareness and education, it is becoming better. It is also obvious that a lot will be achieved by creating the necessary awareness.’’

On a voice vote, the bill scaled second reading.

Ekweremadu, therefore, assured that whatever concerns that may arise from consideration of the bill for third reading would be addressed at the committee level in order to produce a bill that would be acceptable to all.