The circumstances surrounding Mary’s first pregnancy some years back were not pleasant. Despite her endeavors to take iron supplements and diet adequately, her haemoglobin level (Hb) remained below pregnancy levels. Loosing over 500mls of blood after delivery worsened the situation. She was transfused the only pint of blood in the bank and remains grateful to the voluntary donor. The lives of many women are often at risk during child birth due to complications related to blood loss and shortages. In some cases, there are no facilities to store blood for use in times of need. In others, the demand for blood supply outweighs the amount available. The need of regular blood supply remains vital to the proper functioning of humans and health services.
Blood is a red viscid fluid that circulates through the heart and blood vessels. Blood is important because it supplies the body with Oxygen and nutrients to function properly, and also carries waste products such as carbon dioxide to the lungs or urea to the kidneys to be eliminated from the body. Blood has four components each having different roles. Red blood cells (RBC’s) contain an Iron rich pigment called haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around the body. White blood cells (WBC’s) fight infection. Platelets control bleeding through clot formation. While plasma the liquid component of blood, contains nutrients needed by cells and proteins to aid in clotting.
A voluntary blood donor is someone who willingly without compulsion and on altruistic unpaid basis gives his/her blood, to help save the lives and improve the health of others who are in need of it.
Blood when collected can be used whole or separated into blood products or components, thereby providing a patient with the blood component which he needs. Blood products are any therapeutic substances derived from human blood. This could be whole blood, plasma or packed cells. For this reason, a pint of blood from a donor can save as many as 3 lives.
In many countries, there is inadequate supply of blood and blood services face the challenge of making sufficient blood available, while also ensuring its quality and safety. Adequate supply can only be assured through regular donations by voluntary unpaid donors.
About 108 million units of donated blood are collected globally every year, of which 50% of these donations are from high income countries, home to less than 20% of the world’s population. The average blood donation rate is more than 9 times greater in high income countries (36.8 donations per 1000 people) than in low income countries (3.9 donations per 1000 people). One out of ten people who seek medical care daily, need blood. Many patients requiring transfusion do not have timely access to safe blood meanwhile blood donated by 1% of the population can meet a countries most basic requirement for blood. The blood could be from group “A”, ‘B’, ‘AB’, or ‘O’. Blood banks often run short of groups ‘O’ and ‘B’ blood.
Transfusion of blood and blood products help save millions of lives yearly. It can help patients suffering from life threatening conditions live longer and higher quality of live, and supports complex medical and surgical procedures. It also has an essential, lifesaving role in maternal and perinatal care. Thus, access to safe and sufficient blood and blood products can help reduce rates of death and disability due to severe bleeding during delivery and after childbirth. Donated blood is most often of great help to severely anaemic women and kids (as a result of malaria or malnutrition), accident victims having excess blood loss, surgical patients, cancerous patients, thalassemia patients, people suffering from hemophilia, sickle cell anemia, blood disorders etc.
Adequate and reliable supply of safe blood can only be assured through a stable base of regular, voluntary, unpaid donation. With voluntary donors, the prevalence of blood borne infections is minimal as compared to family/replacement and paid donors. This can be justified by the fact that, volunteers who know others rely on their blood supplies choose better habits that promote health and thereby live low-risk lifestyles which benefits them and the patients receiving their blood. They are also more likely to be honest in answering questions about their health and lifestyle, which help to screen those at risk of carrying these infections. Never the less, all donated blood is routinely screened for HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and syphilis prior to transfusion. Given the urgency in the administration of blood, it is important for blood donors to opt to donate blood before need arises thereby giving the laboratory ample time to screen blood rather than doing it in a hurry. The WHO’s goal is for all countries to obtain all their blood supplies from voluntary unpaid donors by 2020. It is therefore crucial that voluntary non-remunerated donors make a commitment to give blood regularly.
In most developing countries, the concept of paying for blood from someone to be used immediately or as replacement for blood used still dominates voluntary non-remunerated donations. Payment for the donation of blood not only threatens blood safety, it also wipes out community solidarity and social cohesion which, on the contrary, can be enhanced by the act of voluntary non-remunerated donation. In 1972, Titmuss warned against payment for blood by stating that: “if blood is considered in theory, in law, and is treated in practice as a trading commodity then ultimately, human hearts, kidneys, eyes and other organs of the body may also come to be treated as commodities to be bought and sold in the marketplace”.
In 2011, nearly 83million blood donations were collected worldwide from voluntary unpaid donors, (an increase of close to 8million donations from 2004) with greater than 90% of donors being men. Although women, due to physiologic factors may be prone to conditions such as anaemia, it is important that the number of women donors be scaled up.
The need for safe, efficacious and secure supplies of blood products is universal and projections for supply of blood and blood products remain challenging to estimate. As the knowledge and understanding of human health and medicine advance, diagnostic and medical practices advance, so does the demand in safe blood and its products. If all donors give 2 to 4 times a year, it would help prevent shortages.
We all have this precious liquid running through our veins and the choice to share with someone to make their lives better is beneficial to the individual and community. Every blood donor is a hero because they give the gift of life. Given that there are minimal risks associated with blood donation, it is a privilege for every healthy individual to give blood, now, and ensure a regular blood supply rather than wait till there is urgent need for it.
World blood donor day
2)56 facts about blood and blood donation
3) WHO: More voluntary blood donors needed
4) Voluntary blood donation: foundation of a safe and sufficient blood supply
5) International challenges of self-sufficiency in blood products
6) 10 Facts on blood transfusion
7) World blood donor day 2017
She is a nursing student in Bamenda.