Aflac Expands Social Robot Duck to Help Kids With Sickle Cell Disease


 February 14, 2022

Insurance firm Aflac has created a new version of its award-winning robotic duck and is now distributing it to children with sickle cell disease, which impacts more than 100,000 Americans, primarily in the African-American community.

The My Special Aflac Duck was developed in 2018, designed to help children with cancer through their journey. The company has delivered, free of charge, more than 13,000 ducks to children with cancer. With 1 in 365 black children born with sickle cell disease, Aflac said it took on the challenge of devising ways to adapt the robot duck to include accessories and a corresponding app to serve the special needs of kids with this illness.

In 2020, Aflac partnered with the creator of My Special Aflac Duck, Sproutel, a patient-centered research and development company to initiate this new research. This also involved a pilot program conducted at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and involved parents, children and healthcare providers. 

“We are excited to expand the My Special Aflac Duck program, particularly as the sickle cell community is underserved and the disease itself is underfunded,” said Audrey Boone Tillman, executive vice president and general counsel at Aflac. This terrible disease often robs children of a ‘normal’ childhood, causes great pain, and can even lead to premature death. My Special Aflac Duck has done an incredible job helping provide comfort to children with cancer, and we are confident that it will provide the same reassurance to kids with sickle cell. These families need help, and if Aflac can help provide some measure of relief, we are ready to take on that mission.”

Aflac SickleCellKitOne of the adjustments made includes a special blanket for each duck, as children with sickle cell disease are often susceptible to temperature changes. Their duck’s blanket doubles as an art canvas and comes with a water-soluble marker that kids can use to draw on the blanket. It also includes new medical play accessories that are specific to the needs of kids with sickle cell. An enhanced digital experience includes adaptations to the interactive app that focus on art therapy and issues like hydration to help teach young patients how to stay healthy while managing their symptoms.

“The inclusion of My Special Aflac Duck for our patients with sickle cell disease is a welcomed addition to our program,” said Dr. Tamara New, medical director for the sickle cell program at Atlanta’s Egleston Hospital. “Children with sickle cell disease deal with a unique set of circumstances, including a stigma that can impact mental and emotional health as well as physical health. My Special Aflac Duck is a companion that encourages them to do the things that they might not always want to do, but that they need to do from a health care perspective.”

For more details on the robot duck program and how healthcare patients can benefit, visit this Aflac site. For more details on the sickle cell version, visit this Aflac website.

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