National Sickle Cell Awareness Month – September 2022

National Sickle Cell Awareness Month is held every September to raise awareness and attention for sickle cell disease. The ultimate aim is to drive research and treatment options to give those affected by this illness a better quality of life.

History of National Sickle Cell Awareness Month

This inherited blood disease turns the red blood cells into a sickle shape. This very shape causes problems when blood has to flow through small blood vessels, leading to blockages and causing the person pain and other, more serious symptoms.

Records indicate this disease existed in Africa for at least 5,000 years and was previously known by many different tribal names. Medical history puts the date of official discovery, and subsequent naming, in 1910. A 20-year-old man, Walter Clement Noel, originally from the island of Grenada, was studying dentistry in Chicago when he developed acute episodes of pain and symptoms of anemia. He visited a cardiologist, Dr. James B. Herrick, who in turn referred him to his resident, Dr. Ernest Irons. Upon examining Walter’s blood under a microscope, Dr. Irons realized the blood cells were in the shape of sickles. The case went back to Dr. Herrick, who realized this was a new, heretofore undiscovered disease. He went on to publish his report in a medical journal, “Internal Medicine,” in which he used the term ‘sickle-shaped cells.’ His description was so influential that the disease was given his name; it was called ‘Herrick’s syndrome’ for many years before taking on its current moniker — sickle cell disease.

After Herrick’s discovery, more cases began to surface, primarily among people of African origin, but no one knew what this disease was. 17 years after the discovery, two medical professionals, surgeon Vernon Hahn and intern Elizabeth B. Gillespie, found that by removing oxygen from the red blood cells, it could be made to sickle. This was crucial to understanding what caused this disease and how to treat it. Other experiments in this period also established a condition known as sickle trait — red blood cells ‘sickled’ when deprived of oxygen, but the person developed no symptoms of the disease.

By the 1940s, another important theory had been established with regard to this disease — the world learned this was inherited from parents. Two articles were published, independent of each other, both showing that people with sickle cells but no symptoms got the gene from one parent, while those with the disease got a double dose of the genes. One article was in an African medical journal and was published by military doctor Col. E. A. Beet from Portuguese East Africa (now called Mozambique). The other article was published in the American journal, “Science,” by Dr. James V. Neel, who was the chairman and founder of the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Michigan. Dr. Neel benefitted from the popularity of the American journal and often gets sole credit for this discovery.

By 1951, the world knew that the oxygen-carrying protein in the red blood cells — called hemoglobin — had a different structure in people with sickle cell disease. Again, this helped researchers understand more about how this disease affected people. The 1970s onwards saw improved testing, better treatment options, and thus, the life spans and quality of life of people afflicted by this disease increased. Around this time, the non-profit organization National Association for Sickle Cell Disease, Inc. realized there was a lot of miscommunication and incorrect information surrounding this disease. They launched a series of awareness campaigns in 1975, and a year later, launched the National Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Since then, they have been working towards better treatments, and a cure, under the name Sickle Cell Disease Association of America. The federal government officially recognized this month in 1983, and America has been observing this day ever since.

National Sickle Cell Awareness Month timeline

1917
Testing For Sickle Cell

Dr. Victor Emmel from Washington University Medical School creates a test to determine if someone has sickle cell disease — if blood, kept for several hours on a microscope, shows evidence of sickles, the person is said to have the 'sickling disease.'

1923
Initial Studies

A medical instructor from Johns Hopkins University Medical School, John Huck, and Dr. C.C. Guthrie are some of the first to study sickle cell anemia; while they cannot make firm conclusions, they suggest the disease might be genetic.

1949
Sickle Cell Disease is Genetic

Two independent articles by two doctors — one in Africa and the other in America — prove that sickle cell disease is inherited.

1951
Another Important Discovery

Dr. Linus Pauling and Dr. Harvey Itano make an important discovery that the chemical structure of hemoglobin is different in patients with sickle cell disease.

September 1983
Official Recognition

The Congressional Black Caucus of the House of Representatives passes a resolution asking President Ronald Reagan to proclaim September as National Sickle Cell Awareness Month.

National Sickle Cell Awareness Month FAQs

What is the color for sickle cell awareness?

Burgundy has been selected as the color for sickle cell awareness.

What is the theme for World Sickle Cell Day 2021?

The theme for this year is ‘Shine the Light on Sickle Cell’. The Sickle Cell Improvement in the Northeast Region through education (SiNERGe) project is collaborating with the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, Inc. to launch this year’s month.

Do sickle cells live long?

Sickle cells have a lower life expectancy than normal red blood cells and live for only 42 to 47 years.

How To Observe National Sickle Cell Awareness Month

  1. Check for events online

    Foundations and organizations — including the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America — host various events, races, summits, fundraisers, and even Twitter parties throughout September. Learn more about them, and see if you can attend a few events.

  2. Donate blood

    One way to contribute to the cause is to donate your blood. You can make appointments with the American Red Cross or visit local health centers to donate your blood.

  3. Donate money

    Consider putting some money towards this cause and donating to charities working towards sickle cell treatment. Fund trials, research, or homes treating people afflicted with this illness.

5 Facts About Sickle Cell Disease

  1. It is most common among African Americans

    Although other groups — Latinos, Asians, Middle Eastern people, Mediterranean people — are affected, too, it is most common among African Americans.

  2. This is a group of blood disorders

    The most common type of this is sickle cell anemia (SCA).

  3. People need to test for this

    People often don't know they have sickle cell trait — when a child inherits the sickle cell gene from its parents but does not have the disease — as it does not cause illness; that is why they need to be tested.

  4. Treatment differs for different people

    There is no single accepted treatment plan for sickle cell disease; each person is treated based on their symptoms and type of disorder.

  5. People with this disease can live well

    95% of newborns with sickle cell disease make it to adulthood, provided they live healthily, follow precautions, and seek treatment regularly, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why National Sickle Cell Awareness Month Is Important

  1. Building a community of helpers and advocates

    The more people who know and understand this illness, the better-equipped people will be to deal with it. Members can even start collaborating for common causes and join hands to better the lives of those afflicted with this disease.

  2. Improves our understanding of the illness

    Events held this month help those living with the disease, and those whose lives it has touched. It even increases screening for this illness.

  3. Accelerates treatment and cure

    As we address key issues faced by people with this illness, we stand a bigger chance of getting the word out there. The more people that learn and share their stories, the better chances we have to advocate for more treatment, medicines, and even a cure for this illness.

National Sickle Cell Awareness Month dates

YearDateDay
2022September 1Thursday
2023September 1Friday
2024September 1Sunday
2025September 1Monday
2026September 1Tuesday
American Chess Day
Building and Code Staff Appreciation Day
Cherry Popover Day
Chicken Boy Day
Ginger Cat Appreciation Day
National Acne Positivity Day
National Child Identity Theft Awareness Day
National No Rhyme Nor Reason Day
Pink Cadillac Day
Slovakia Constitution Day
Wattle Day
World Letter Writing Day
Animal Pain Awareness Month
Attendance Awareness Month
Baby Safety Month
Bear Necessities Month
Better Breakfast Month
Blood Cancer Awareness Month
Bourbon Heritage Month
Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
Classical Music Month
Disaster Preparedness Month
Festival of Learning Have a Go Month
Footy Colors Day
Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month
Healthy Aging Month
Intergeneration Month
Irish Heart Month
Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month
Liptember
National Chicken Month
National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month
National Cholesterol Education Month
National Honey Month
National ITP Awareness Month
National Papaya Month
National Peace Consciousness Month
National Peripheral Artery Disease Awareness Month
National Preparedness Month
National Recovery Month
National Save a Tiger Month
National Service Dog Month
National Sickle Cell Awareness Month
National Suicide Prevention Month
National Velociraptor Awareness Month
National Yoga Awareness Month
Newborn Screening Awareness Month
Oddfellows Friendship Month
Organic September
Pain Awareness Month
Pet Sitter Education Month
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Awareness Month
Prostate Cancer Awareness Month
Responsible Dog Ownership Month
Reye's Syndrome Awareness Month
Rule of Law Month
Save Your Photos Month
Self Improvement Month
Sexual Health Month
Urology Awareness Month
Vascular Disease Awareness Month
World Alzheimer's Month
World Animal Remembrance Month
World Candle Month
World Fun Fair Month

Holidays Straight to Your Inbox

Every day is a holiday!
Receive fresh holidays directly to your inbox.