Sickle cell disease: the need for a public health agenda

Am J Prev Med. 2011 Dec;41(6 Suppl 4):S376-83. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2011.09.007.


Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a collection of inherited blood disorders that affect a substantial number of people in the U.S., particularly African Americans. People with SCD have an abnormal type of hemoglobin, Hb S, which polymerizes when deoxygenated, causing the red blood cells to become misshapen and rigid. Individuals with SCD are at higher risk of morbidity and mortality from infections, vaso-occlusive pain crises, acute chest syndrome, and other complications. Addressing the public health needs related to SCD is an important step toward improving outcomes and maintaining health for those affected by the disorder. The objective of this study was to review public health activities focusing on SCD and define the need to address it more comprehensively from a public health perspective. We found that there has been some progress in the development of SCD-related public health activities. Such activities include establishing newborn screening (NBS) for SCD with all states currently having universal NBS programs. However, additional areas needing focus include strengthening surveillance and monitoring of disease occurrence and health outcomes, enhancing adherence to health maintenance guidelines, increasing knowledge and awareness among those affected, and improving healthcare access and utilization. These and other activities discussed in this paper can help strengthen public health efforts to address SCD.

MeSH terms

  • African Americans
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell* / complications
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell* / epidemiology
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell* / mortality
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell* / physiopathology
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell* / prevention & control
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Promotion
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Needs Assessment
  • Public Health Practice*
  • United States / epidemiology