A bill seeking to make haemoglobin-genotye testing compulsory for intending couples in Nigeria passed the second reading on Tuesday.
The bill, which was sponsored by Senator Ahmed Ogembe (PDP, Kogi Central), will make the screening of couples compulsory before a marriage is conducted under the Marriage Act and before registration of new births under the Birth, Death Compulsory Registration Act.
Leading debate on the bill at the plenary on Tuesday, Ogembe said the objective of the bill was to establish a clear legislative framework for effective management of sickle cell disease, which is caused by mismatch of couples’ genotype.
According to Ogembe, the bill has become necessary, following the untold pains suffered by people living with sickle cell disease.
He said, “We simply want to avoid human anxiety, pains and death as related to sickle cell disease.
“We want to improve the lives of often forgotten citizens who live with it.
“Unknown to many, it is one of the biggest public health problems in Nigeria. Nigeria, from reports, is known to have the greatest number of sickle cell disease in the world.
“The picture is brought into sharper focus when we consider the findings by the American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention that, slightly above 300,000 babies globally are born with severe sickle cell diseases; out of which 225,000 are born in Sub-Sahara Africa, representing 75 per cent of the global figure.
“This bill, when passed, will reduce the incidence of the disease to the barest minimum in our nation and allow families to live in joy.
“Research has shown that only five per cent of children born with sickle cell disease live past the age of 10 years in Nigeria.”
The lawmaker noted that while the life expectancy of persons living with sickle cell disease in advanced countries was between 40 and 60 years, it was lower in Nigeria.
He stated that there was an urgent need for a solution to the problem, adding that, “A situation where, in every two babies born in the world with sickle cell, one is a Nigerian, is not encouraging.”
Senators who spoke on the bill hailed the sponsor, while saying that the proposed law would help to protect unborn children from the excruciating pains associated with the disease.
They described the disease as ‘avoidable,’ with proper awareness on the need for intending couples to undergo the test.
In his remarks, the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, referred the bill to the Committee on Health, to be returned to the Senate in four weeks.
He urged the committee to merge the bill with one currently before it, which has similar objectives, and for it to come up with a single bill that would address the problem.