Remarks by United States Ambassador James Entwistle On World Sickle Cell Day In Abuja

James Entwistle(Abuja):  Thank you for coming today to support the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation.  The foundation is improving awareness of the sickle cell trait to educate people on the choices they face in reproductive decisions when a parent has sickle cell.

Also, thank you to Nkem Azinge, one of our very best and brightest Mandela Washington Fellows, for putting today’s event together.  Nkem is very special to us, and a true fighter.  A software engineer by day, Nkem and her family are dedicated to sickle cell awareness during their free time.  Indeed, Nkem, her brother Olisa, and elder sister Asua have sickle cell.  Her twin sister Nkechi does not, but heads the family foundation devoted to promoting sickle cell awareness and genotype testing.  People such as Nkem and the entire Azinge family have worked very hard using their family experience to make life better for all Nigerians.

Today, I also wish to give special recognition to Ms. Zahra Buhari.  As Nigerians are well aware, sickle cell has touched the first family.  She personally promotes free genotype testing and genetic counselling as important early interventions in order to prevent sickle cell disease.

I also wish to recognize Mrs. Oludolapo Osinbajo, wife of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.  She ardently promotes self-sufficiency of those who have the sickle cell disease.  Frequent hospitalizations, chronic pain, and fatigue make it difficult for sufferers to maintain jobs in the formal sector.  Mrs. Osinbajo recognizes this and has focused on skills acquisition for sickle cell patients to compete better for work with flexible positions and as successful entrepreneurs.   Additionally, she has demonstrated her strong commitment to genotype testing to support informed reproductive choices.  The commitment of the highest levels of leadership within Nigerian society to genotype testing and awareness is impressive and a demonstration of their commitment to the Nigerian people. Your presence at the embassy is greatly appreciated.

Sickle cell disease affects millions of Nigerians, as well as an estimated 100,000 Americans.  As a result of its large population and location, Nigeria has the largest population of people anywhere with the disorder.  Tragically, more than 100,000 Nigerian children are born each year with sickle cell. Research indicates over 40 million Nigerians are carriers of the “S” gene.  The foundation’s work is thus vitally important—education and testing—to ensure potential parents are more aware of the risks of passing sickle cell disease to their children.

I am proud and privileged that you selected the U.S. Embassy to hold this program.  Today’s panels will contribute to the ongoing national effort to raise awareness about these issues.  These are important discussions to have, and we are happy to host them on the 2016 World Sickle Cell Day.  The United States is committed to treating sickle cell.  Our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta performs continued sickle cell research to understand the disease better, how best to mitigate its effects, and how best to control and treat it allowing sufferers to live full and productive lives.  Moreover, last fall we awarded Nkem’s foundation a small public affairs grant of $4,600 to support the “Know Your Genotype” program.  So we certainly are in solidarity with you and the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation’s long term goals.

The United States and Nigeria have a broad and deep partnership, and nowhere is that more the case than in the health sector.  Indeed, if you add together all of the various U.S. health initiatives supported by several different health agencies here in Nigeria, we have one of our largest health partnerships anywhere in the world.

And with that, let me turn the program back to Nkem so that the work of the panels can begin.  Thank you.

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