Covid-19 laid bare the long-standing vulnerability of minority and low-income communities in U.S. society and its health system even as we celebrated the power of scientific innovation to rein in the pandemic. It’s time to turn that innovation, driven by an even greater mind shift, to end inequality in treatment.
In perhaps no condition is such inequality more evident than sickle cell disease — a genetic disease for which the molecular basis has been known since 1956 but for which innovative treatments have been elusive.
Beginning at birth, this disease deforms and destroys red blood cells. Instead of floating easily through the bloodstream as flattened disks, they contort into a rigid crescent or sickle shape. These sickle cells die off sooner than healthy red blood cells, causing anemia. They can also clump together and block blood vessels, causing pain (known as sickle cell crises or vaso-occlusive crises), organ failure, and early death. People with sickle cell disease die on average 30 years sooner than people without it.