Drop of Life

Amidst the on-going corona virus pandemic, voluntary blood donation is the need of the hour.

By Haris Ali Abbasi | April 2020

IIt is generally believed that the youngsters are at a 10-year low of donating blood. And that makes me ponder the fact that despite being a young individual I have never donated blood. Why? Lack of time, fear of needles, the lack of information and misunderstandings discourage young people from donating their blood. As per some available statistics, only about 14 per cent of regular donors are under the age of 30, so I am not alone.

Why should I donate blood?
People lose blood in accidents and injuries and urgently require fresh blood. Since the human body is capable of producing blood on its own but only to a certain limit, the outside sources are needed to help the organism to recuperate. As per some studies, one out of seven hospitalized patients requires blood. Blood is especially imperative for treating cancer. It is essentially needed while carrying out the surgical procedure. Since the blood cannot be produced in a clinical setting, there is always a demand for eligible blood donors who are willing to donate their blood and that too on a regular basis.

Women with pregnancy complications, young patients with severe anaemia, cancer patients and people undergoing serious surgeries as well as people with severe traumas caused by traffic accidents or natural calamities, everyone is in dire need of blood.

Opposed to common perception, blood donation is an equally rewarding and beneficial practice for donors. While you donate blood, you get something in return in two ways –a little prestige of being a blood donor as well as the satisfaction of getting the same favour when you are in need of it. Overall, this experience inculcates more consciousness and empathy within the donors and affects their emotional well-being and self-esteem being a valuable part of the society.

So what do the numbers reflect?
In Pakistan, over 90 per cent blood donations come from friends and relatives of patients. Approximately 10 to 20 per cent of blood supply is donated by qualified donors, while blood transfusion facilities in the country are mostly hospital-based. According to a survey carried out in Karachi, the quality of kits used for blood screening is severely impacted by frequent power-cuts and the blood is not even stored at the desired temperatures.

As per some estimates, a minimum of 10 blood donations per 1,000 population shows blood is available in a country for transfusion and if only 1 per cent of the country’s population donates blood, there would be no blood shortage. Out of 10,000 people, however, only 0.28 per cent donates blood on a regular basis. To cap it all, there is no proper infrastructure and storage facility in place to cope with emergency situations and most blood banks are unregistered and unregulated.

Am I eligible to donate?
Any individual between the age of 17 and 65 years and weighing 50 kgs or more can donate blood, three times a year at least. However, donors should not be suffering from a serious disease like Hepatitis B, C, HIV/AIDS, etc. On an average, an adult man and woman have about 12 to 9 pints of blood in their bodies and only one pint is collected during a single blood donation procedure. In addition to that, blood can be stored up to 35 days.

What are the challenges?
In Pakistan, there is a misconception and lack of awareness about blood donation. Parents prohibit their children from donating blood, even if they meet the blood-donation eligibility criteria. Also for safe blood transfusion, we lack resources at the government level and are unable to monitor the system properly. Medical professionals also lack the required competency to handle blood transfusion matters. In most cases, the donated blood is not even utilized to the full capacity and there are gaps in the whole system.

To make things worse, limited options are at hand for smaller cities and rural areas. Operating on tehsil and district levels, most hospitals do not have blood banks and are not resourcefully equipped with the required medical apparatus to maintain the blood temperature, particularly when it is transported from a blood bank operating in adjacent areas. Unfortunately, Pakistan has an additional liability because of an extraordinary number of thalassemia patients.

The way out
June 14 is celebrated as ‘World Blood Donor Day’ across the world. Started in 2010 in partnership with Germany and other regional partners, the Safe Blood Transfusion Programme (SBTP) has been a huge success. The new infrastructure development work of the Phase I was completed in 2016 in which a total of 10 modern RBCs were established and about 60 existing HBBs were elevated. Termed as a “matchless experience,” the SBTP initiative has emerged as the ‘national platform and voice of blood safety’ in Pakistan.

In a word, blood donation is a fundamental process that helps hospitals to save thousands of lives. Amidst the on-going corona virus pandemic, healthcare providers should rise to the occasion to coach the community about the significance of blood donation, a truly fulfilling experience that forms invisible bonds among people, thus leading to incredible social awareness and responsibility.