The Federal Government on Friday said it would not criminalise marriage between carriers of sickle cell disease in the country.
The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Mr Linus Awute, disclosed this in Abuja at a news conference organised to mark the 2015 World Sickle Cell Day.
The government was reacting to speculations that it was pursuing a legislation to ban marriage between victims of the disease.
He said the Federal Government through the ministry would rather adopt aggressive public sensitisation that would be geared towards creating more awareness about the disease in Nigeria.
“Couples who are carriers are still getting married today out of ignorance and the best way to cure ignorance is by sensitisation of the public.
“Criminalising marriage between two carriers is undemocratic because it will amount to criminalising love, so government is not even contemplating that option.
“We are in a democracy and I think everybody is free to choose his or her partner, so the best approach for now is sensitisation which will be at the head of other strategies,” he said.
The scribe, however, acknowledged the fact that the burden of the disease in Nigeria was high and that there was an urgent need for actions to be scaled up.
He said the ministry had developed a set of guidelines for the management of the disease which was now functional in designated centres across the country.
Awute said the government in addition to the sensitisation approach was working towards integrating management of sickle cell and other non-communicable diseases in the nation’s primary healthcare system.
He said the ministry would actualise the plan by building the capacity of health workers and facilities in the primary health care centres across the country.
The permanent secretary said plans towards reducing the burden in Nigeria would also include expanding the scope of treatment in the six geo-political zones.
According to Awute, the centres include Abakaliki for the South-East zone; Birnin Kebbi for North-West; Ebute Metta for South West; Gombe for North-East; Keffi for North-Central, and Yenagoa for the South-South region.
He said the efforts by the federal government also include the commencement of stem cell transplant at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital.
He said the stem cell transplant was the only definitive cure for treatment of the disease, but decried the low demand for the service due to its high cost.
Awute added that sickle cell management was also contained in Nigeria’s post MDGs plan because of government’s commitment to curbing the menace.
He urged Nigerians to debunk prejudices associated with sickle cell disease particularly insinuations that the disease was associated with witch craft.
NAN reports that the theme for the 2015 commemoration is `Control of sickle cell in Nigeria at the primary health care level’.
Statistics indicate that over 100 million persons in the world are affected by the disease, while an estimated 40 million Nigerians are carriers of the sickle cell trait.