Sickle cell, a genetic blood disorder, decreases the functions of the cells of the human body and subjects the patients to various complications.
Medical experts have aggressively viewed the disorder as a challenge to medical practice because it shortens life.
For instance in the U.S, prior to the discovery of more effective management of the disorder, the average life expectancy of persons with this condition was estimated at 42 years in males and 48 years in females.
Of course, life expectancy in the developing nations including Nigeria will be lower for such patience if the U.S, with its awareness on the dangers of the sickness, coupled with advanced technology, could only record this feat.
Even with the prevailing better management of the disease, medical report indicates that patients can only live into their 50s or more.
With this grim drag on human existence and the World Health Organisation's (WHO) report in 2006 that Nigeria is one of the countries with the highest number of people with sickle cell, health experts have raised concerns on the provision of efficient management of the disease.
The analysis of the report indicates that the annual figure for Africa in 2006 was 200,000 while Nigeria accounted for 150,000 children with the disorder.
Also, medical findings show that 30 per cent of Nigerians are carriers and the prevalence rate was put at 20 per 1,000 births. This is alarming and the stakeholders in the health sector are resolute to address the challenge.
So in 1998, a drug, Niprisan, was developed at the Nigerian National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) under the U.S. patent.
In August 2002, the American company Xechem International, acquired the exclusive world-wide rights to Niprisan and later renamed it Nicosan/Hemoxin which was launched in 2006 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
However, the production of Nicosan was stopped and in further response to the challenge of providing effective management for the disease, three institutions recently signed an agreement on production of sickle cell drug in Nigeria.
They are NIPRD, Nigeria Export Import Bank (NEXIM Bank) and the Federal Ministry of Health.
They are to rebrand and retain the name Nicosan for effective management of the disease.
According to medical experts, Nicosan, as a phytomedicine, appears to be safe and effective in reducing crises associated with severe pains over a six-month follow-up period.
The drug, produced with extracts from four botanical plants in Nigeria, does not cure sickle cell but reduces the frequency of crises.
With this somewhat relieving potency, it is worrisome that the necessary fund to sponsor the production has not been forthcoming.
According to Mr Robert Orya, the Managing Director of NEXIM, the bank has yet to release the seeded fund for the production of the drug.
"Within the first week of signing the agreement with the Federal Ministry of Health, we were bombarded with law suits and there are lots of outstanding legal issues.’’
"The suits stemmed from disagreements between foreign pharmaceutical companies and their Nigerian counterparts.
"NEXIM has always been committed because even for social reasons, a lot of Nigerians are suffering from sickle cell.
"We have a situation where parents come into the bank with their sick children and it evokes emotions even more than money,’’ he explained.
He explained further that the bank had syndicated more than N700 million in loans with some banks for the production of the drug in the country, adding that a loan recovery committee had also been set up.
Orya assured the public that as soon as a pending case in court was cleared, the production of the drug would begin.
Dr Mohammed Pate, the Minister of State for Health, said the production of the drug in Nigeria would be a relief to carriers.
"NIPRD has done well in terms of coming up with this and is being complemented by NEXIM Bank as well as other stakeholders to finance the production,’’ he said.
Prof. Karniyus Gamaniel, the Director-General of NIPRD, said the commercial production of Niprisan would have begun but for the legal action.
He said that the cost of the pilot production of Niprisan was N250 million for one year for 300, 000 patients.
Between the legal battle and the actual production of Niprisan, therefore, what are sickle cell patients saying?
Mrs Deborah Rotimi, a patient, said: ``I am like any other child; this has always been my belief even as I will be 30 years by January 2013.
"Although I am a sickle cell carrier; the last health crisis I had was in 2005 and it was not an experience to remember.
I live every day of my life on drugs and I pray that one day government will start the production of the sickle cell drug to help the situation.’’
Mrs Veronica Osi, who has a son with sickle cell disorder, said if government could produce the drug at an affordable price; it would go a long way to help the carriers.
"My 18-year-old son has been with sickle cell disease from birth, we spend everything we have to make sure that he lives because we love him.
"Anytime he has crisis, I become ill more than him, seeing him going through blood transfusion and so many things is a terrible experience.
"We depend on God and the assurance by the doctors that the government would soon begin the production of a drug for its management. We hope that the drug will come and he will not die,’’ she said.
Dispute or no dispute, stakeholders hold the belief that government should take decisive measures at accelerating processes that will ensure the production of the drug as well as its availability and affordability to all sickle cell patients.