Offsetting Traditional Beliefs that Sickle Cell Anemia in Infants are “Ogbanje”s or “Abiku”s


Do not confuse sickle cell anemia to ogbanje or abiku. Infancy and the toddler years are usually very exciting for both the child and the parents, you get to see different things about your child and laugh over certain attitudes they exhibit, they sometimes want 100% attention and it could be disturbing for parents, but it’s fun nursing your baby and knowing that the child depends so much on you.

Sickle cell anemia is not spiritual

This stage is a period to explore and have fun and accept the challenges in love and with the promise to care for your baby. Parents should be able to observe their kids, be very sensitive to the different changes and attitudes of your child, follow your instinct especially when you think your child needs special attention, don’t give up, that is why you are a mother, or the guardian, you understand the pains you went through so you won’t allow any carelessness on your child. 

A very simple example of a mother who gave birth to her child and a few hours later she observed some changes on the skin of her son of which she complained to the nurses and they said it was normal. She insisted that they run a test on the baby and they realized that actually there was jaundice, they apologized and the baby was detained for treatment. Sometimes you could meet negligent nurses and doctors, they are humans so they could be insensitive too. The lady’s constant pressure on the nurses saved her from totally extracting all the blood from her son, it could have gotten worse if she had ignored or if she wasn’t aware, they would have blamed it on her villagers or apologized if he had died.

The sequence of births and deaths of infants in a family is analyzed as the same child dying and being born continuously. Some traditionalists believe that this happens as a result of the child’s destiny and relationship with a particular deity and some see the pregnancy to belong to a deity or being manipulated by a mischievous spirit. Such children are called “ogbanje or abiku”, in Igbo and Yoruba cultures respectively, due to some abnormalities, according to the traditionalists and they usually see them as being possessed and different that people discriminate against them in families and in society.

This idea of calling any sick infant an “abiku or ogbanje” is wrong as this has affected many families, into neglecting the actual problems of their children by accepting that hasty generalization, and concluding that it’s spiritual without proper medical check. Society has evolved, technology is invoked and it is sad to watch infants still die because of some people who hold some traditions and have refused to evolve with time.

I saw this on a friend’s wall “ is there a scientific explanation that provides insight to why a woman loses her children in their infancy? Children that are referred to as “abiku, ogbanje” and et cetera”. I pulsed for a while, to say that people still hold these archaic beliefs and allow infants to suffer for their own ignorance and inability to change and also leave certain traditions.

So when a child starts showing some symptoms like yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mouth, pain crisis, irritation or acute chest syndrome, anemia, or problems with the spleen, they tag that child to be an “ogbanje” and a curse from their ancestors. This is not right at all. The child suffers and the parents are mentally affected and they live in misery hoping for when the deity would allow them to have a real baby. When you have a child who didn’t die, after giving birth to some sick kids, it is not because the child is a blessing unlike the others, maybe this child has a different genotype.

So that day, we all kept watch with that family, as their baby wailed throughout the night, we decided to turn on the television since the baby’s shout and discomfort won’t let anyone sleep. We all wondered about what the child was going through that made her really restless and why she cried so much at that odd hour?This continued for days, sometimes we slept without the usual crying of the baby girl. We were beginning to look for the baby because she was no longer the chubby, smiling damsel but rather the opposite, she is always moody and in great pain.

They were just treating her randomly and giving her different drugs for different ailments they thought of, yet she wasn’t getting better. As usual, stories started flying, different interpretations to the child’s predicament, some said she is an “ogbanje”, others said she didn’t come to stay, to some others they should take her to the church for deliverance or go herbal. I couldn’t imagine the confusion and the troubles of her parents.

I was already educated about the symptoms I noticed in this child because of an organization called Sickle Cell Interactive and Management Association (SCIMA). I read articles about SCIMA and how the organization is trying to reduce the number of children who are being diagnosed of sickle cell anemia yearly.

I attended seminars organized by SCIMA and saw the free genotype testing opportunities for people, and how they raised funds for bone marrow transplant for kids who suffer sickle cell anemia. I recall the words of the founder of that organization during a seminar “please, know your genotype so you do not bring any child into this world to suffer and before you get into a relationship with anyone ensure you ask about the person’s genotype”.

These words kept echoing in my head and there was an urge to go tell these people that maybe this child is a sickler and they should go for a checkup because it is possible her parents d are not aware of their genotypes. Though I was also afraid of being misinterpreted or cast for wishing them evil, yea, that’s what people think about sickle cell anemia. No! Sickle cell is not evil! A sickler is not evil, but a brave fighter enduring so much pain. I finally summoned up courage and confronted them and afterward, it turned out that she is a sickler.

Sickle cell anemia is a medical condition in which the red blood cell in a person’s body is shaped like a sickle just like the letter C. Red blood cells transport oxygen to the entire part of the body. For individuals without this medical condition, the red blood cells are round and flexible. A sickle cell patient is faced with the challenge of stiffened blood cells that prevents the movement of blood in the body.

This is usually very painful and could cause some irritations and discomfort in the body, you can imagine a child enduring such excruciating pain, So, when you hear a child cry in pain, and exhibit certain signs you should take that child to the clinic to confirm the situation. It could be sickle cell disease or some other ailment but not from any deity whatsoever.

Sickle cell disease is inherited, children inherit this from their parents through their genes, the reason we advise parents to check their genotypes before getting into a sexual relationship to avoid inflicting pain on children. Genes are usually in pairs so it is shared amongst parents, the infants get each pair from each of their parents. Genes give instructions to the body and the body functions with those instructions.

Sometimes the instruction changes and this is called a mutation, at this point, the infant could get the gene change from both of his parents, and then the child is said to have Sickle cell disease but if the child gets the gene change from one of his parents then he is a carrier of the gene change but not sick of sickle cell disease.

Though some infants with the gene change from a mother or father suffer some of the conditions of sickle cell disease patients, this doesn’t categorize them as one. When you start seeing these conditions like paleness, tiredness, slow growth, body pains, heartburn and etc in your child, do not panic, take your child to the doctor, don’t start calling the child evil and disregarding the child into suffering and enduring severe pains or dying in the process, due to your own carelessness and fears.

Children are very fragile, so you see them cry over pains uncontrollably unlike adults, so do not get confused and see them as “ogbanje or abiku” just because you can’t figure out their problems. They can’t speak, so they won’t tell you what they are going through, it is your duty as a mother, father, guardian to be aware of these things and take responsibility on their behalf since they are vulnerable and depend solely on you.


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