The Jharkhand health department on Saturday said that more than 10% of the state's tribal population is suffering from sickle cell anaemia (SCA), a virulent genetic disorder peculiar to India's tribal belts.
More than 8.6 lakh out the 86.4 lakh tribal population of Jharkhand are affected by the disorder, health officials estimate.
SCA abnormalities in blood lead to severe anaemia, infections, body pains and even paralysis, some of them said.
The biggest worry for health officials is a group of 64,837 people who were identified with the disorder by the Indian Council of Medical Research in a 2014 survey.
In the disorder's critical form, a person’s life expectancy becomes less than 50 years, said Dr Sanjay Kumar Singh, a professor of medicine at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences.
“Simple SCA carriers are individuals who suffer the fallout of anaemia without their life expectancy being affected,” he said.
“SCA occurs in a child if both the parents are carrier. In such cases, the defect gets aggravated at times, and can be fatal for the child.”
The irony is that despite the looming sickle cell crisis, Jharkhand is yet to start screening such patients.
"Our first priority would be to stop two SCA carriers from getting married and check the disorder from spreading in Jharkhand," said Dr Sumant Mishra, the director-in-chief of Jharkhand health services.
"The state doesn't have its own survey or a screening mechanism. Our data is based on the studies by health institutions."
Mishra said that by August this year, people will be screened for the disease. "We will have portable kits for health workers to screen people for SCA,” he said.
“The department of health and education will screen more than 25 lakh students till December for the disease.
"The department will start its survey with seven ST districts and then extended it across the state. We are looking for institutions with expertise."
Chief minister Raghubar Das recently announced that Jharkhand was part a nation-wide initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to eradicate SCA.
"All civil surgeons have been directed to start the process of identifying areas in their districts where the prevalence of SCA is high. This will be one of the biggest projects under taken by the department,” said principal secretary health K Vidyasagar.