Knowledge may be power, but, as far as genotype is concerned, many would
    rather not know. You are passionate about your partner; your partner is
    (supposedly) madly in love with you. And then you go check your genotype and
    you discover that despite your vigorous good health, you may have a child
    whose second home is the hospital, whose screams would pierce you to your
    bone marrow, whose life-long intervals of pain would rend your heart and make
    you question the wisdom of uniting with your lover, the unwisdom of attachment.

    If you were ignorant of your genotype - and its meaning - you would have the
    peace of mind that you did not knowingly bring trouble on your offspring. For
    you, then, ignorance would be bliss, a kind of sop for your later Cerberus of
    guilt.

    Katsina State of Nigeria is raising awareness about sickle cell in its domain,
    and at a level which no other Nigerian tier of government has undertaken. The
    Katsina model would certainly become one to reproduce when the country
    finally wakes up as one to the need to nip an epidemic in the bud as well as
    assist those for whom the door of pain is ever ajar. Katsina conducts free
    genotype screening to all interested citizens, thereby helping to silence the
    excuse of ignorance among the many would rather follow their hearts than their
    heads.

The aptly-named Sickle Cell Humanitarian Organization is an offshoot of First Lady Hajiya Fatima Shema's
Service To Humanity Foundation. Founded just over two years ago with just forty members, the organization
has grown to over seven thousand strong in three senatorial zones - Funtua, Daura and Katsina. More than
three quarters of the members are individuals with sickle cell anaemia, the remainder being mainly family
members and friends.

SCHO's chairman, Alhaji Bala Shuaibu, 57, a registered nurse, is no stranger to the vagaries of life with
sickle cell. Apart from professional practice spanning many years, two of his children are affected with sickle
cell - a seven year old boy in primary school and a 25 year old damsel in the college of education. With that
kind of background, Alhaji Shuaibu is able to give counseling from a deep well of personal experience.

'If you are with Genotype SS, go for AA,' Shuaibu says, 'if you are having Genotype AS, go for AA the same.'

In his reasoning, as there are more people with the normal genotype AA in Katsina State and indeed
everywhere in the world, it should not be that difficult to control and minimize the spread of full sickle cell, the
dreaded red blood cell abnormality so rampant in black Africa.

But, does life work out that way? As novelist Thomas Hardy once said, 'years of analytical philosophy have
failed to explain why the wrong man meets the wrong woman'. Nature does not bring forth the partner with
the 'right' genotype on a platter. The man with the 'right' genotype may be flawed in other ways and the
woman with the 'wrong' genotype may have sterling qualities absent within the one with the desired
genotype. In addition, where do we place the all-important issue of love in a marriage contracted solely for
reasons of genotype? The human being, surely, is more than the sum of his parts. As Ayo Otaigbe,
President, Sickle Cell Club, Lagos, and pioneer of Genetic Counselling in Nigeria, would say, 'you don't
marry genotype, you marry a human being!'

Arguments about the individual being greater than his genotype do not hold water with the likes of Alhaji
Shuaibu, who has seen and known sickle cell so close to skin.
'In the grip of a sickle cell pain crises, Shuaibu illustrates, 'the 8year-old son of one of our SCHO members
turned to his mother and asked, 'mama, why did you give birth to me!''

For Shuaibu, a loveless marriage with healthy children is preferable to a loving one with suffering children.
Better you marry the AA you have no feeling for, he insists, than the 'carrier' you love for the sake of your
unborn children - and ultimately for your own sake too.

'You would spend a good portion of your life in hospital,' he warns, ‘you would blame yourself, blame your
partner. You would blame the child,  - you would be lucky indeed if the child does not blame you for bringing
him or her into the world. Your marriage, your finances would be under pressure. What type of life is that?

Indeed, what type of life? And what manner of thinking insists a child's health and happiness must be
sacrificed on the altar of passion?
'A Loveless Marriage Is Preferable To
Seeing A Child Suffer!'
By Titi Aladei
Alhaji Bala Shuaibu,
Former Chairman, Sickle
Cell Humanitarian
Organization, Katsina,
Nigeria
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