UAMS Program Educates, Hopes to Reduce Sickle Cell Births

By todd

LITTLE ROCK – About one thousand Arkansas families with children carrying the sickle cell anemia trait will receive education and screening as part of a University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) project.

UAMS, through its Partners for Inclusive Communities program in the Department of Pediatrics, believes the two-year effort that began in June will help improve lives and reduce the number of children born with sickle cell.

Sickle cell anemia, a chronic, life-threatening condition, occurs when the red blood cells, normally disc-shaped, become crescent shaped. The abnormality creates small blood clots, which cause recurring painful episodes called sickle cell pain crises. The disease, which also can cause organ failure, affects all races, but black people more than others. About one out of 500 black people in the United States has sickle cell, and about 4,000 in Arkansas.

The UAMS sickle cell program is funded by a $362,000 grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services.

A primary purpose of the program is to reduce the number of newborns with sickle cell. Genetic counseling is an integral part of the effort because the disease can occur only when two carriers of the sickle cell trait have a child together.

“We’re focusing on prevention because a lot of individuals don’t understand that one in 10 African Americans could have the trait,” said Ruby Brown, project director. “We’re trying to identify and tell families what it means to have the trait.”

Families with children who have the disease will be contacted with the help of the Arkansas Division of Health of the Department of Health and Human Services, which screens newborns for sickle cell. Arkansas Children’s Hospital, a UAMS affiliate, also will provide education and consultation to health care providers as part of the program.

The program’s staff also includes David Deere, principal investigator, Flora Fisher-Porter, lead counselor, Germain Johnson, AmeriCorp Vista volunteer, and health educators Kendon Gray and Ruby Washington.


Brown said the program can help improve the lives of those with the disease and their families by teaching parents how to become advocates for their children at school and other settings. Coping with sickle cell and preventing pain crises requires the person with sickle cell to adapt to a long list of do’s and don’ts, in which parents play a critical role. For example, they need folic acid supplements, must stay well hydrated and avoid strenuous activity.

The project’s collaborators are the Sickle Cell Foundation for Support Groups, UAMS Delta Area Health Education Center (AHEC) in Helena, Arkansas Children’s Hospital Hematology Department, Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services and Title V Children’s Services.


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, five centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has about 2,320 students and 690 residents and is one of the state’s largest public employers with almost 9,000 employees. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $4.3 billion a year. UAMS centers of excellence are the Arkansas Cancer Research Center, Harvey and Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy and Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute.