Dr. Kevin Williams Talks about Sickle Cell Disease in the Black Community


You really don’t know a company, until you know the people who work there.

Those were the introductory words of National Newspaper Publishers Association President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., as he introduced Dr. Kevin Williams, the chief medical officer for Pfizer’s rare disease unit, who discussed the impact of Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) in the African-American community.

At the NNPA’s summer convention, Williams addressed publishers and others on the serious nature of the illness, an inherited genetic disease that affects hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying protein within red blood cells (RBCs).

“While normal red blood cells are flexible and oval-shaped, individuals with SCD have sharp, crescent shaped RBCs that have trouble passing through the body’s blood vessels, irritating the vessels’ lining,” Williams said, explaining SCD.

That irritation leads to the production of sticky proteins that cause RBCs to clump together, along with other cells, and creates blockages in blood flow, Williams added.

“The reduced flow leads to severe pain and organ damage, like the heart, brain, eyes, liver, lungs, and spleen—causing the inability to fight certain infections,” Williams said.

Sickle Cell Disease is more prevalent among Blacks compared to Whites.

Statistics provided by Pfizer revealed that 1 in 14 African-Americans have the sickle cell trait at birth while 1 in 500 Blacks have the diseases when they are born.

The first initiative under the partnership is a national poll. The goal is to assess the awareness of SCD, the challenges of living with the disease, and the importance of clinical trial participation in helping researchers succeed in developing potential new treatments.

They also want to bring attention to the everyday suffering of SCD patients, many of whom described the constant fatigue associated with living disease; one participant said that the pain was a never-ending battle, and it felt like living in Hell.

The results from the national poll are expected to be released in September, and officials are hoping that it will help more African-Americans seek proper health care and obtain better guidelines for treatment.

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