Mariam Diallo is finally hopeful of finding proper treatment for her child suffering from sickle cell disease, after losing six family members to the terrible condition.
"My son died of pain in front of my eyes, I will never forget it," she told AFP of the inherited blood disease that ravaged her family and many others in Africa where it predominates.
AdvertisementIn the Malian capital Bamako, the recently opened Sickle Cell Research Centre is the result of co-operation between Mali, France and Monaco and is meant to improve the lives of those suffering from the disease.
One of the most common genetic disorders, sickle cell disease causes blood cells to take the shape of a crescent instead of being smooth and round, thereby blocking blood flow and leading to chronic pain, infections and tissue death.
The disease "mutates the red blood cells. The blood doesn't receive oxygen. Complicated cases can lead to death," Dr Dapa Diallo, director general of the centre told AFP during a tour of the facility.
According to the Monaco website, between 6,000 and 7,000 babies in Mali are born every year with sickle cell disease, leading to a significant number of physical and functional handicaps.
"And 50 percent of deaths are recorded before the age of five if there is no medical follow-up," explains military doctor Karim Camara, deputy director general of the centre.
The 3.5 million-euro (4.9 million-dollar) project will enable up to 3,000 sufferers to receive care and be monitored, as there is no cure for the disease.
The World Health Organisation said in 2006 that sickle cell disease was "the cause of five percent of deaths of children under five years", a figure which reached 16 percent in some west African nations.
Inaugurating the building on Friday, Mali President Amadou Toumani Toure said the specialised centre was "the best equipped in west Africa" and would be "open to all the sick in our neighbouring countries seeking medicine."
"It is a Malian centre, but also a centre for all Africans. They can come and be treated, the doors are always open for them."
Equipped with state of the art equipment, the centre's orange buildings stretch over 5,000 square metres, where clinical research will take place, and specialists will receive training.
"The new equipment is adapted to the complications of the disease," according to French doctor Alain Dorie, the only expatriate permanently employed at the centre.
"Today when a sickle cell disease sufferer goes to a hospital, he is prescribed a blood transfusion and he must just manage. But here, when he has a 'blood crisis', when he arrives we take charge," he said.
According to French haemotologist Gil Tchernia "the purpose of the centre is also to detect the illness from birth. Because if it is detected early, treatment is easy and effective."
Monaco and the French Pierre Fabre Foundation will each donate between 100,000 and 135,000 euros a year until 2012 to the centre which is also financed by Mali.
The 45-year-old teacher Diallo, herself a sufferer of the disease, plans to take her 18-month-old, born with the disease, to the centre for tests next week.
"He has violent headaches, I don't know what he has exactly. It is a terrible disease.
"I am also sick, but thank God, for the moment, I am fine."