Andy Bako, 58, a laboratory scientist and Executive Director, Bako Youth Development Foundation, resigned from his civil service job to attend full time to sickle cell awareness in his home state, Kaduna.
It never occurred to him what a huge problem SCD ignorance was until he put his hat in the ring.
‘I wanted to help children with sickle cell disease as well as raise awareness on the disease to prevent youths taking uninformed decisions before marriage,’ said Bako.
Since it was founded in 1998, BYDF has conducted over one million genotype verification tests for children and youths – all for free!
‘Personal resources and donations from friends who believed in me made this possible.’
Bako and his team found that not less than one quarter of those he tested carried the sickle cell gene with about 3% having one sickle cell anaemia or any of its variants.
Bako believes SCD to be a major factor militating against youth development.
‘SCD drains family and social resources and may thwart or slow the ambitions of youth.’
BYDF also gives psychosocial support to affected families as well as counseling to intending couples. Millions more still need the kind of services the organization provides in several local governments in Kaduna State.
BYDF recently paid a call on the Kaduna State Commissioner For Women Affairs and Social Development to canvass government support for its humanitarian activities. The organization was worried by the non-availability – and the cost, where available – of routine medications for sickle cell. At that meeting, the commissioner, Hajia Hafsat Baba, commended the efforts of BYDF and promised to liaise with the Ministry of Health to improve the lives of people with SCD in the state. Earlier, the Ministry of Health had pledged to work with BYDF to improve SCD awareness.
Bako’s vision is to see all Nigerians make marital and childbearing choices that will see sickle cell cases plummet to the barest level within the shortest possible time.
‘I believe if the teaming unmarried youths decide today to make it a point of duty to make future generations safe through responsible relationship and choices, we will achieve tangible results in our fight against SCD.’
How that will be possible in a country assailed by ignorance, poor laboratory skills, poverty in the midst of plenty and religious fervor bordering on fanaticism is completely another matter.
Undaunted, Kaduna’s irrepressible sickle cell activist says it is possible to take little steps and achieve one’s goal.