Lawyer, Advocate, President of the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation (SCAF) and founder of Haima Health Initiative; that is another summarization of Bukola Bolarinwa. But what makes her our hero is her inclination, her strong beliefs and hope, her utter commitment to those living with sickle cell anaemia. Bukola herself, is one that lives with the sickle cell disease.
Sickle Cell Aid Foundation (SCAF) and founder of Haima Health Initiative (HHI)
Bukola joined SCAF in 2011, while at the Nigerian Law School in Bwari. The foundation was set up by her friend Nkechi Azinge, who also has had a firsthand experience of what those living with sickle cell disease go through; having siblings that are anemic. This common experiences they shared as regards sickle cell, led to their desire to create greater awareness and support for people living with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD). A support system because, while Bukola lives with SCD and is fortunate to enjoy the love and the extensive support system around her, she is cognizant of the fact that the case for majority of people in Nigeria is different from hers. This informs why she works tirelessly, with her team and volunteer staff, in order to carry out activities to raise awareness about SCD and aid those living with it. The Sickle Cell Aid Foundation (SCAF) therefore, is a non-governmental organisation established to raise awareness about sickle cell disease and related health conditions. While Nkechi is the founder of the organisation, Bukola works in the capacity of the President.
Bukola also started Haima Health Initiative because the Sickle cell beneficiaries often need blood transfusions. She, along with her team, started by calling their friends and families to donate at hospitals and as more people heard about them, they decided to help as many people as possible to get blood and to support hospitals who struggle to find blood in a safe and timely way because of the absence of blood donors. The Hama Health Initiative has an online database which allows people to register as voluntary blood donors that can be called on in emergency situations. At the moment, there are a minimum of about 500 registered donors across 8 states in Nigeria who have donated over 300 pints of blood free of charge directly to patients. The goal is to increase the number of voluntary blood donors and create a culture of donation devoid of superstition especially amongst young persons.
The driving hope for Haima Health Initiative is the young and largely healthy population of Nigeria. Though it is abysmal that health care providers are constantly short of blood, the Initiative uses the Haima web and mobile service so that donors are constantly available. There is also the hope that it will gain funding to embark on more marketing to register and inform more young people on the importance of voluntary, regular, non-renumerated blood donation.
SCAF and HHI: Aiming At More!
In 2012, SCAF commenced the Know Your Genotype Campaign (KYGC) which involves carrying out free genotype tests, counselling and sensitisation in the F.C.T. a minimum of about 10,000 free genotype tests across 5 States in Nigeria has been undertaken and at the moment, it remains the largest on-going campaign on sickle cell advocacy in Nigeria. Their activities have reached over 15,000 persons across Nigeria. In addition, SCAF runs the Sickle Cell Club Scheme (SCCS) to set up sickle cell clubs in secondary schools where we also carry out free genotype tests. Students found to have SCD were placed on free drugs and their tuition fees paid.
There are also so many projects they are aiming at. Some of these includes the publication of a school’s handbook on SCD which is a fun activity book for teenagers. The target is for the Ministry of Education to incorporate it into as many Government secondary schools as possible as an after school sickle cell club. More so, it is important because sickle cell education has to start from a young age to ensure every child knows their genotype and to avoid discrimination.
SCAF and HHI: More Challenges than Meets the Eye
Characteristic of many non-profit sector endeavors and ventures, the major challenge is that the demand is always greater than the supply; there are more people to help than those willing to help. The translation of this limitation is easiest in financial terms or funding. In other words, funding is always a primary challenge. This implies that like most NGO’s, SCAF and HHI are dependent on donations from individuals and organizations for continuous running.
Secondly, ignorance and misinformation are the bane of most health issues in Nigeria; diseases like SCDs are not exempted from this unfortunate challenge. This makes the job of reeducation, awareness and orientation of the foundation and initiative harder than it ought to be.
It is said that, Nigeria records the highest incidences of the sickle cell gene and disease globally with 150,000 children born with SCD each year and 100, 000 of them die before they are 5. Despite this staggering statistics, Bukola Bolarinwa lives with hope; rather, she is hope personified, that those living with SCD can live life, enjoy life, and contribute immensely to the world. By her little contributions in SCAF and HHI, those hopes will be translated to realities each passing day.
Featured image source: The Guardian Nigeria