The Relationship Between Support Systems and Disease Burden for Families Coping with Sickle Cell Disease in South Africa and Cameroon

Thumbnail Image




Wittenbrink, Brittney Michelle


Royal, Charmaine DM

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats



Background: Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a debilitating genetic blood disorder that seriously impacts the quality of life of affected individuals and their families. With 85% of cases occurring in sub-Saharan Africa, it is essential to identify the barriers and facilitators of optimal outcomes for people with SCD in this setting. This study focuses on understanding the relationship between support systems and disease outcomes for SCD patients and their families in Cameroon and South Africa.

Methods: This mixed-methods study utilizes surveys and semi-structured interviews to assess the experiences of 29 SCD patients and 28 caregivers of people with SCD across three cities in two African countries: Cape Town, South Africa; Yaoundé, Cameroon; and Limbe, Cameroon.

Results: Patients in Cameroon had less treatment options, a higher frequency of pain crises, and a higher incidence of malaria than patients in South Africa. Social support networks in Cameroon consisted of both family and friends and provided emotional, financial, and physical assistance during pain crises and hospital admissions. In South Africa, patients relied on a strong medical support system and social support primarily from close family members; they were also diagnosed later in life than those in Cameroon.

Conclusions: The strength of medical support systems influences the reliance of SCD patients and their caregivers on social support systems. In Cameroon the health care system does not adequately address all factors of SCD treatment and social networks of family and friends are used to complement the care received. In South Africa, strong medical and social support systems positively affect SCD disease burden for patients and their caregivers. SCD awareness campaigns are necessary to reduce the incidence of SCD and create stronger social support networks through increased community understanding and decreased stigma.






Wittenbrink, Brittney Michelle (2016). The Relationship Between Support Systems and Disease Burden for Families Coping with Sickle Cell Disease in South Africa and Cameroon. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.