At 82, Dr S L Kate feels he still hasn’t done enough for patients with sickle-cell disease. Once every month he travels to the remotest village of Roshmal Budruk in Dhadgaon taluka to help find new ways and means to alleviate their pain – the latest being the centre’s Ayurveda Unani Siddha Homeopathy (AYUSH) project to find a drug formulation prepared from bel fruit (wood apple) that can help improve the quality of life of these patients.
“Estimates show that of the 1.5-lakh tribal population in Dhadgaon, at least 20 per cent are sickle-cell disease carriers and one per cent are sufferers. There are at least 153 villages in Dhadgaon, and we have reached out to five- six patients in each village, offering counselling, blood tests and other laboratory investigations,” Kate told Newsline. It is a hilly terrain located between the third and sixth ranges of Satpura, 600 km from Pune, where 96 per cent of the population belongs to tribal groups.
“It takes more than 16 hours to reach the village, but bi-monthly sickle-cell diagnostic and treatment camps are conducted,” said Dr Gunvant Yeola, who along with other team members accompany Kate to help patients with sickle-cell anaemia. Four years ago, UNESCO declared June 19 as World Sickle Day. In sickle-cell anaemia, the most common form of the disease, the body forms sickle-shaped red blood cells that contain abnormal haemoglobin. These red blood cells are less functional and block the flow of blood, causing pain and organ damage, Yeola explained.
When sickle-cell disease was first identified in 1948, patients did not have much hope to live past childhood. While National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) has taken up the sickle-cell disease as a healthcare concern, much needs to be done in terms of genetic counselling and intervention programmes, experts said.
“In the absence of a cure, most of the patients lead a miserable life. This is my passion, and I hope to help curb the spread of sickle-cell anaemia,” said Kate,who has worked for more than five decades identifying the disease, detecting patients and pleading with successive governments to set up treatment units for them. As a lecturer at B J Medical College, he visited Bhils and Pawaras tribal communities in Dhule, and subsequently joined Dr S T alias Dada Gujar at the Maharashtra Arogya Mandal in Hadapsar to provide better healthcare facilities to patients.
According to a survey, the estimated number of people suffering from sickle-cell anaemia is nearly 2.5 lakh across Maharashtra, while there are 10 lakh in the country. At a function organised on the occasion of World Sickle Cell Day at Sane Guruji Hospital in Hadapsar on Thursday, Dr R M Dhere, scientist at Serum Institute of India, handed over the key of a utility and travel van donated by Dr Cyrus Poonawalla to the trustees of Maharashtra Arogya Mandal. Dr Pooja Doshi, professor at chemistry department, University of Pune, who is a sickle-cell disease patient, explained the need to work on a new drug. She is at present collaborating with Dr Kate for the purpose. Dr M A Phadke, senior advisor at National Health Mission, was also present.
What is sickle-cell anaemia?
The body forms sickle-shaped red blood cells that contain abnormal haemoglobin. These red blood cells are less functional and block the flow of blood, causing pain and organ damage
Around 2.5 lakh people across Maharashtra suffer from sickle-cell anaemia