Jamaican, Dr. Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette Dies, Pioneer in Sickle Cell Treatment

Dr. Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette

Jamaican-born medical pioneer Dr. Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette has died at the age of 89 in Alexandria, Virginia. Dr. McBarnette devised a treatment for children with sickle cell anemia. Known professionally as Dr. Francis, she lived a life marked by high achievement. Growing up in Harlem following her family’s immigration from Jamaica to New York, she enrolled in Hunter College. She graduated in 3.5 years with a BA in physics, but was considered too young to attend medical school or even work in a laboratory. Instead, she earned an MA in chemistry at Columbia University, and in 1946, became only the second black woman to enroll at Yale’s School of Medicine. Dr. Francis successfully used antibiotics to treat children with sickle cell anemia during her time directing a clinic in Queens, New York, pioneering the treatment 15 years before the medications’ effectiveness was confirmed in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1993. During the Nixon Administration she was on a White House advisory committee that made recommendations leading to the 1972 National Sickle Cell Anemia Control Act, which provided funding for screening, counseling, education and research relating to the disease. In 1966, the doctor and her colleagues established a foundation to continue research into sickle cell. By 1970, Dr. Francis’ clinic had screened 20,000 children for the disease and started to prescribe antibiotics. Dr. Francis was born in Kingston. Her father was a teacher in Jamaica but became a factory worker upon moving to New York and was a delegate for the international Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Her mother had also been a teacher in Jamaica, but became a seamstress after the move. Dr. Francis attended Hunter College High School in Manhattan.

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Stephanie Korney