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In the United States people are often surprised when they learn that a person who is not African American has sickle cell disease. The disease originated in at least 4 places in Africa and in the Indian/Saudi Arabian subcontinent. It exists in all countries of Africa and in areas where Africans have migrated.
It is most common in West and Central Africa where as many as 25% of the people have sickle cell trait and 1-2% of all babies are born with a form of the disease. In the United States with an estimated population of over 270 million, about 1,000 babies are born with sickle cell disease each year. Approximately 70,000 - 100,000 individuals in the United States have sickle cell disease and 3 million have sickle cell trait. In contrast, Nigeria, with an estimated 1997 population of 90 million, 45,000-90,000 babies with sickle cell disease are born each year.
The transatlantic slave trade was largely responsible for introducing the sickle cell gene into the Americas and the Caribbean. However, sickle cell disease had already spread from Africa to Southern Europe by the time of the slave trade, so it is present in Portuguese, Spaniards, French Corsicans, Sardinians, Sicilians, mainland Italians, Greeks, Turks and Cypriots. Sickle cell disease appears in most of the Near and Middle East countries including Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Yemen.
The condition has also been reported in India and Sri Lanka. Sickle cell disease is an international health problem and truly a global challenge.
All these countries must work together to solve the problem and find effective treatments and ultimately a cure. The knowledge and expertise in the management of sickle cell disease acquired in the technologically advanced countries must be shared with the less developed countries where patients die at alarming rates.