“Don’t fear to donate blood”.
This was said by Charles Mwansambo, the Ministry’s Chief of Health Services, then the Principal Secretary.
Blood shortage worries government. These were the headlines in the newspapers Daily Times and The Nation dated 5th and 10th April 2014 respectively and they are not only worrisome headlines but they also present a worrisome situation.
According to Malawi factsheet which comprises data from UNICEF and WHO, the country needs 158,830 units of blood a year and only 49,698 units were collected (2011) leaving a deficit of 109,132 units. Just under one third of blood needed in Malawi is being collected. The question in one’s mind could be what the end result of the huge deficit is? Out of this, 66% is needed for mothers and children.
These shortages emanate from fear amongst Malawians that whenever people go for blood donation then they will be tested for HIV/AIDS and if they are found positive they cannot donate blood. In Malawi 1 out of 10 people are HIV positive leaving out 9 people whose blood may be used safely in blood transfusion. Therefore fears of HIV positive status being an excuse for not donating blood is unfounded Dr Charles Mwansambo observed.
Blood is something we all expect to be there for us when we need it. As a country let’s not forget that we cannot get blood from donors’ outside, manufacture it let alone buy it. Blood donation is everyone’s responsibility to save lives. We do not need to give blood when family and friends need transfusion. When blood is available it makes our doctors’ job easier and they are able to save lives of accident victims, people of serious ailments such as anemia and mothers and babies during childbirth.
Malawi Blood Transfusion Services (MBTS) collects most of the blood from students, this is now a challenge as most of the secondary students are under the age of 16 (donor age is 16-65 and weight is 45kgs above) and when school closes the situation becomes tough. With this scenario, it leaves the communities to do this noble job.
There is a greater need to sensitize communities on the importance of blood donation. Adult males can donate blood every 3 months and woman every 4 months. Donors are screened for health problems that would put them at risk for serious complications from donating. A report published in the US for a survey done from October 2008-September 2009 showed that there is no evidence of death caused by blood donation. Research published in 2012 showed that repeated blood donation is effective in reducing blood pressure, heart rate; it also prevents the accumulation of toxic quantities and may reduce the risk of heart disease for men. These are some of the donor health benefits.
What do we have for our donors? Do we have a strategy of wooing or retaining the donors?
In other countries regular donors are often given some sort of non monetary recognition. In Italy blood donors receive the donation day as a paid holiday day. Blood centers will also add some incentives such as assurances that donors would have priority during shortages, free t-shirts, first aid kits, pens etc. There are also incentives for the people who recruit potential donors. In Poland after donating specific amount of blood a person is gifted with the title of “Distinguished Honorary Blood Donor”.
Any suggestions on what we can do here in Malawi???
Remember he who gives blood is a hero not only has he donated blood but he has saved lives.
To read the factsheet on blood services in Malawi, click here.
To view our infographic on blood need in Malawi, click here.