Dr. Yazdi Maneksha Italia: A Sickle Cell Crusader

For more than twenty years, a silent war has been fought deep in Gujarat's tribal districts against a crippling genetic disease. Dr. Yazdi Italia, a pioneer in the management of sickle cell anaemia in tribal areas, is leading this battle. He is the recipient of the esteemed Padma Shri Award for his extraordinary contributions.

A Translational Scientist with a Vision

Renowned microbiologist Dr. Italia has devoted his professional life to studying and managing sickle cell disease. He has been a ray of hope for individuals struggling with this difficult illness since 1978. His endeavour started with a straightforward but effective mission: to lessen sickle cell disease-related misery.

photo: Dr. Italia

Revolutionising Sickle Cell Care

Dr. Italia made history in 2006 when he founded the first Sickle Cell Anaemia Control Programme (SCACP) in Gujarat, India. This programme, which was spearheaded by then-Chief Minister Narendra Modi, sought to give SCD patients all-encompassing treatment, prompt diagnosis, and efficient management. Dr. Italia's commitment and knowledge were crucial in creating this ground-breaking project.

Nationwide Impact

The influence of Dr. Italia went well beyond Gujarat. Working together with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), he promoted newborn screening using heel prick dry blood samples. This novel strategy made it possible to identify SCD early, which facilitated prompt therapies and enhanced patient outcomes across the country.

The Padma Shri Honour

In 2024, the Government of Gujarat recognised Dr. Italia's exceptional contributions by awarding him the Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel's award and the prestigious Padma Shri. This honour not only celebrates his individual achievements but also acknowledges the collective efforts of his team in advancing SCD care.

photo: padma shri award Dr. Yazdi Maneksha

Gratitude and Perseverance

Dr. Italia remains a humble crusader, expressing gratitude for the recognition bestowed upon him. His work continues to inspire healthcare professionals, policymakers, and communities alike. Through his unwavering commitment, Dr. Italia has woven hope into the fabric of SCD management in India.

Breakthrough discoveries attributable to Dr. Italia:

Haemoglobin F (HbF) Induction:

  • Dr. Italia's research explored ways to increase foetal haemoglobin (HbF) levels in SCD patients. HbF inhibits the polymerization of abnormal haemoglobin (HbS), reducing the sickling of red blood cells.
  • His work contributed to the development of hydroxyurea, a medication that stimulates HbF production. Hydroxyurea has revolutionised SCD treatment by decreasing pain crises and improving overall health.

Genetic Modifiers and Phenotype Variability:

  • Dr. Italia investigated genetic factors that influence the severity of SCD. He identified specific genetic modifiers that impact disease progression.
  • Understanding these modifiers helps tailor personalised treatment plans and predict clinical outcomes.

Community-Based Care Models:

  • Dr. Italia emphasised community engagement and patient education. He established support groups, empowering patients and their families.
  • His holistic approach improved adherence to treatment regimens and enhanced overall well-being.

Newborn screening strategies:

  • Dr. Italia advocated for early detection through newborn screening programs. He championed the use of heel prick dry blood samples for SCD diagnosis.
  • Timely identification allows for prompt interventions, preventing complications.

Collaboration with International Experts:

  • Dr. Italia collaborated with researchers worldwide. His work influenced global guidelines for SCD management.
  • His collaborative efforts accelerated progress in research and clinical practice.

Dr. Italia's legacy extends beyond scientific achievements; it lies in the lives he has touched and the hope he has instilled in SCD patients.

Inputs from Multiple Agencies 
Media inputs: Multiple sources

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