A few years ago, my friend told me about where he worked, RSI – Rhesus Solution Initiative and told me to come and be a volunteer.
It was an exciting idea because I had not been a volunteer in a long time and like most people around me, I didn’t know what Rhesus was, so I saw it as an opportunity to learn.
To reduce my ignorance on the matter, he asked me what my blood group was, (I just learnt the difference between that and my genotype). I told him O+, he said the + or – that came with any of the blood group alphabets indicates the presence or absence of Rhesus in d blood.
Okay, what really is this Rhesus?
Rhesus D factor: an antigen “proteinous substance” found on the surface of the red blood cells.
When the Rhesus “D” Protein is found on the surface of the red blood cells of an individual, the person is termed as Rhesus D positive, but if absent the person is termed Rhesus D Negative. Hence every individual belongs to either of four blood types, which is either Rhesus positive or Rhesus negative.
Rhesus disease caused by Rhesus incompatibility (arise between a rhesus negative mother carrying the pregnancy of a Rhesus positive baby) is a condition where antibodies in a pregnant woman’s blood destroy her baby’s blood cells. It’s also known as Haemolytic Disease of the Foetus and Newborn (HDFN).
Rhesus disease doesn’t harm the mother, but it can cause the baby to become anaemic and develop jaundice.
What causes Rhesus disease?
Rhesus disease only happens when the mother has Rhesus negative blood (RhD negative) and the baby in her womb has Rhesus positive blood (RhD positive). The mother must have also been previously sensitised to RhD positive blood.
Sensitisation happens when a woman with RhD negative blood is exposed to RhD positive blood, usually during a previous pregnancy with an RhD positive baby. Kindly note that sensitization happens by pregnancy which could result in abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth or full-term delivery.
The woman’s body responds to the RhD positive blood by producing antibodies (infection-fighting molecules) that recognise the foreign blood cells and destroy them.
If sensitisation occurs, the next time the woman is exposed to RhD positive blood, her body produces antibodies immediately. If she’s pregnant with an RhD positive baby, the antibodies can cross the placenta, causing Rhesus disease in the unborn baby. The antibodies can continue attacking the baby’s red blood cells for a few months after birth.
Preventing Rhesus disease
Rhesus disease is uncommon these days because it can usually be prevented using injections of a medication called anti-D immunoglobulin. E.g Rhogam that RSI gives out to women who need it but cannot afford it (it is expensive)
Anti-D immunoglobulin Injection is required by Rhesus negative mothers at 28 weeks gestation age and/or within 72 hours after exit of any pregnancy.
All women are offered blood tests as part of their antenatal screening to determine whether their blood is RhD negative or positive. If the mother is RhD negative, she’ll be offered injections of anti-D immunoglobulin at certain points in her pregnancy when she may be exposed to the baby’s red blood cells. This anti-D immunoglobulin helps to remove the RhD foetal blood cells before they can cause sensitisation.
If a woman has developed anti-D antibodies in a previous pregnancy (she’s already sensitised) then these immunoglobulin injections don’t help. The pregnancy will be monitored more closely than usual, as will the baby after delivery.
Treating Rhesus disease
If an unborn baby does develop Rhesus disease, treatment depends on how severe it is. A blood transfusion to the unborn baby may be needed in more severe cases. After delivery, the child is likely transferred to a neonatal unit (a hospital unit that specialises in caring for newborn babies).
Treatment for Rhesus disease after delivery can include a light treatment called phototherapy, blood transfusions, and an injection of a solution of antibodies (intravenous immunoglobulin) to prevent red blood cells being destroyed.
If Rhesus disease is left untreated, severe cases can lead to stillbirth. In other cases, it could lead to brain damage, learning difficulties, deafness and blindness. However, treatment is usually effective and these problems are uncommon.
As much as prayer is essential for couples that are TTC (Trying To Conceive), knowledge is also important. At least that way, you know what you’re dealing with.
For further information/ enquiries, please talk to
Razaq Olorunnimbe (Project Coordinator, RSI)
Or just go to their Office at
SUITE 6B, UNIQUE SHOPPING MALL, OPPOSITE MUIZ BANIRE ROAD, OFF OBA AKINJOBI ROAD, CLOSE TO OLD PASSPORT OFFICE, IKEJA G.R.A., LAGOS STATE, NIGERIA.
http://www.facebook.com/Rhesus Solution Initiative