Humber introduces Sickle Cell program – first of its kind

By Jasminee Sahoye


After years of trying to get educational institutions to buy into the need for courses about sickle cell disease, the Sickle Cell Association of Ontario (SCAO)  has convinced Humber College and specifically the Dean of the faculty of Health Sciences to include courses on sickle cell disease into their programs.

Dean, School of Health Sciences, Jason Powell is excited about the new venture.  He says the college wants to lead the way in ensuring that all students in the school of health sciences are well informed about this debilitating disease.

He told The Camera that Humber College graduates will go on to care for patients with sickle cell disease, which is popping up among a range of ethnic groups.  He said he has seen the effects the disease has had on patients when he served as a nurse many years ago.

“We want to be able to have health care professionals and early childhood educators who graduate from the health sciences programs to be able to recognize and treat sickle cell patients the same as they would for patients with any other diseases.  The disease is of paramount and we need to get into the conversation,” he said

As such the college in collaboration with SCAO will host a conference next week that will bring together stakeholders from the Institute of Sickle Cell, University of the West Indies, (UWI) Mona Campus and local health care professionals to discuss the way forward.

Powell expects that after the conference, the college’s school of health sciences will implement programs into their curriculum that will cater for the needs of sickle cell patients.

And the key person behind the collaboration is retired Sunny Brook hospital nurse and clinical instructor of the practical nursing program at Humber College, Tiney Beckles who serves as a board member at SCAO.  She said despite efforts by SCAO founder, Lillie Johnson, a retired nurse herself, to encourage educational institutions include programs on sickle cell and thalasemia into their curricula, her efforts were not bearing fruits.

She said she decided to approach Dean Powell and “I’m honoured that Humber College trusted me enough that when I brought the Dean the idea, he went for it.  He said it’s considered a health problem and we need to be the first college to put it out there.”

Beckles was also instrumental in taking a batch of  Humber College students to UWI’s Sickle Cell Unit, to be trained during a two-month period.  They were also exposed to other hospitals on the island.  It is expected that the collaboration will continue between the two institutions.

Powell says the college wants to break down the misconception that the disease is only associated with people of African ancestry.  Other ethnic groups carry traits of the disease called Thalassaemia.


Sickle-cell disease or sickle-cell anaemia is a hereditary blood disorder, characterized by red blood cells that assume an abnormal, rigid, sickle shape. Sickling decreases the cells’ flexibility and results in a risk of various complications. The sickling occurs because of a mutation in the haemoglobin gene.

People of African descent are considered among the highest risk groups for Sickle Cell disease.