Studies have shown Nigeria has one of the highest rates of Sickle Cell Anemia or Sickle Cell Disease in the world, yet there does not seem to be much knowledge about the disease, genotype, or how it affects the lives of those who have it. Interestingly, I discovered that many millennials and members of generation z were unaware of their genotype and could not recall the last time they had a genotyping test performed while collecting responses for this piece.
According to Heathline, Sickle Cell Anemia is a blood disorder that causes your body to make an unusual form of hemoglobin called ‘Hemoglobin S’. If you have Sickle Cell Anemia, this means you have inherited two sickle cell genes – one from each parent. And if you do not have Sickle Cell Anemia but other members of your family do, you may have only inherited one sickle cell gene. This is known as Sickle Cell Trait. People with SCT only carry one sickle cell gene and an example is the ‘AS genotype’.
The education on genotype compatibility as one of the preventions of sickle cell begins and ends for many members of the current generation of Nigerian youth during a single biology lesson in secondary school, with scarcely adequate information about the disease and the experiences of individuals living with it. Given the hereditary nature of the sickle cell gene, we have some control over preventing Sickle Cell Anemia in the coming generation by ensuring we are properly educated on how to prevent future children from inheriting two sickle cell genes. Considering how it affects the way we date and evaluate potential partners when trying to settle down and create a family, I interviewed heterosexual Nigerian men and women about how they view genotype in relation to dating. Here’s what they had to say.
Age & Genotype: 24, AS
Genotype was never a topic of discussion when it came to my romantic relationships. It wasn’t until my older sister had to call off her engagement with her fiancé, because they found out after a compulsory blood test during pre-marriage counseling that their genotypes were not compatible. She was devastated because it was completely out of their control as they realized it was a big oversight for all parties involved. The incident made me get a genotype test and my result came back as AS.
While marriage is not something I am considering for another couple of years, I am looking for a stable, long-term relationship that could potentially lead to marriage. As a result, I do not have the luxury to procrastinate having conversations about genotype status. Since my genotype is AS, I am a carrier of the sickle cell gene and therefore only compatible with those whose genotype is AA. I understand asking someone you haven’t known for long about their genotype might seem like you’re “moving too fast” but I see it as a means of self-preservation when it comes to dating. Better safe than sorry.
Age & Genotype: 26, AA
Fortunately, AA is a universally compatible genotype. Unless I am specifically picky about what genotype I want my partner to belong to (which is weird), I do not think about it firsthand or feel the need to bring it up in a conversation when getting to know someone romantically.
Age & Genotype: 27, AS
I have always known my genotype since secondary school. And this is because I had to get medical tests done before resuming boarding school and I always paid extra attention during my biology class. Also, a close friend of mine has Sickle Cell. While belonging to the AS group does narrow the dating pool if you have marriage and children on your mind like I do, it is a welcome limitation because it already is hard out here for us single girls so I am grateful for anything that helps me know who isn’t meant for me.
Age & Genotype: 25, AA
My friends never fail to mention how lucky I am on the rare occasion the topic of marriage, genotypes and blood groups come up when we are together. As a personal choice, I do not plan on having children so even if I belonged to any other blood group, it still would not be a cause for alarm. However, for people who do intend on getting married or even just settling down and starting a family, I believe asking someone you are interested in romantically and can foresee a future with about their genotype, is very important.
Age & Genotype: 26, unknown
When it comes to genotype and how it impacts my dating life, honestly, I just do not allow it to. I don’t know my genotype and I am not looking to settle down anytime soon. Therefore, I do not try to find out the genotype of someone I am talking to. It just never comes up. Ignorance is bliss, so in the event I meet someone I want to settle down with and we find out our genotypes are incompatible, I believe it is a risk I am willing to take.
Age & Genotype: 20, SS
As someone living with Sickle Cell, the issue of genotype is a crucial topic of discussion when getting to know someone romantically as it impacts my everyday life in a big way. I am not really bothered about my partner’s genotype because I do not want to have kids – well not right now anyway. When it comes to dating and how one’s genotype can affect romantic relationships, genetic compatibility is an important factor. There is also the fact that for those who are SS or any other sickle cell anemic variant, it goes beyond just compatibility and kids. It affects how we interact with the world and others. There are things a “perfectly healthy” person has never had to think about that we have to constantly take into consideration. How hot or cold will a place be? How much walking will be involved? Are there decent restrooms or do I have to dehydrate myself and risk a crisis? How do I make my friends understand I cannot just sleepover unless I planned to? Sickle Cell affects our romantic lives directly and indirectly, as much as it does many other aspects of our lives.