Greater even than the delights of scenery and the pleasures of summer temps to heat-starved Michiganders in early March is the joy of human connection that can come with a border crossing like this. Such was the case yesterday, when we met Jean Griffith, director of the Grenada Sickle Cell Association. A retired nurse who trained in England and spent 30+ years working there before returning to her birthplace in Grenada in 2005—just after Hurricanes Ivan and Emily ravaged the island, she notes with a smile—Jean specialized in sickle-cell anemia and now devotes herself to raising awareness about the disease here. Her work—and that of her small staff—is entirely volunteer. The association’s office is open just two days a week—Jean is hoping for resources to expand its hours and its efforts.
She is a one-woman tour de force, the kind of inspirational person you so often meet in public health, at once businesslike and deeply compassionate. I expect the three SPH students who’ll be working with her this week will learn a great deal from her about how to work miracles on a shoestring, how to advocate for a cause you believe in, how to change the community you live in for the better.
And while they’re learning, they’ll be conducting surveys to help shed light on the challenges faced by those who care for children with sickle cell anemia. It’s not clear how many Grenadians have the disease, though Jean says she’s got around 200 names in her database. She’s hoping the surveys will help clarify the degree of general awareness of the disease in Grenada—what people know about sickle cell, how it affects caregivers’ daily lives and personal relationships, and how the Sickle Cell Association can adapt its work to better help both caregivers and young adults who suffer from the disease.
“People can be very secretive about their condition because of the negative associations of having the disease,” she explains. Ideally, she’ll use data from the surveys to bolster her efforts to secure support from the Ministry of Health.
At SPH we often talk about public health heroes. Grenada’s Jean Griffith is clearly one of them.