BLOOD DONATION; a life saving necessity

By Martha Mukaiwa
December 2011/January 2012
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With motor vehicle accidents and traffic injuries having claimed a total of 50 Namibian lives in October this year and the alcohol-soaked and impaired actions of the festive season now firmly in our midst, there is no better time to donate blood.

Though some see blood donation as a way to get a free blood test, others shy away because they know the paths they would have travelled, or due to latent superstition as well as cultural and religious beliefs, the Blood Transfusion Service of Namibia (BTS) sees this particular form of vampirism as a necessary and life saving evil.

Regarded as a relatively blood rich nation due to its 100% non-remuneration donor scheme, which means that an individual donates blood for free, BTS confirms that, generally, Namibia has a very healthy donor base, which generates up to 22 000 units of blood per year, though the clinics are not immune to some rogues simply seeking an HIV test.

“We do emphasise that we are not a testing facility,” says de Koe. “And people who turn up just to have a blood test are usually self-excluded when they fill out a donor medical history form, which is a highly personal questionnaire regarding one’s sexual activities, drug usage and a host of other issues that my disallow you from donating blood.”

Other factors that may curb one from donation are weight, flu and de Koe further stresses that one may even be prevented from donating blood for the simple reason of not having eaten sufficient breakfast.

“In addition to the medical history form, we do what we call pre-testing and a quick medical check before donation,” says de Koe. “For example, we don’t take a donation from someone with low iron, we check this with a finger prick and we don’t let you donate if your haemoglobin is low.”

Though there are indeed some people who donate blood for personal reasons and never donate again after confirming their negative status, de Koe stresses that for the most part, people are legitimate donors who have the basic information and truly want to commit to this selfless act after asking a few preliminary questions.

“Anybody who approaches a blood donation clinic comes with the idea that they want to save a life,” says Sister Judith Sinvula of the Tal Street Blood Donor Clinic in Windhoek. “But, they are certainly worried about how much blood will come out and whether they will be able to reproduce more and if they will be able to continue with their activities for the day. They also want to know about the integrity of our instruments and whether the needles we use is brand new.”

Sister Judith further expounds that while potential donors are worried about a host of legitimate concerns, at the end of the day, the biggest deterrent is needle-phobia. “Everyone has a different tolerance for pain but the needle prick is minimally sore and once that is over, you sit for about 10 minutes and should have no further pain as the blood goes through,” says Sister Judith. “As for the integrity of the instruments, each needle is used only once and it goes straight for incineration so the possibility of contracting any disease from our equipment is zero.”

Protected during donation but wary about collection, many people when faced with the issue of transfusion, fear the fate of having their life saved by infected blood. And indeed, with Namibia’s prevalence of HIV being one of the highest in the world, this is a legitimate concern. “We have very low HIV numbers in our collections as we have a very healthy donor base with very healthy donations,” says de Koe.

“All blood that is found to be infected with HIV, Hepatitis B or C and Syphilis is immediately destroyed and cannot be used under any circumstances. The risk of infection by transfusion is extremely low as we run a very detailed test and each unit is rigorously tested. We don’t even take a donation if you have a cold,” she adds.

Those who do donate, however, can feel proud in the knowledge that should their donation be successful, they will be providing one of three vital blood products and that much like regretfully shorn hair their blood will grow back. “You can donate blood once every 56 days because that is when it is safe for the body,” says de Koe.

“By then, the body would have reproduced the blood and we can store that unit for 42 days and that one donation can be divided into three products namely red cell concentrate, platelet concentrate and fresh frozen plasma.”

Unhappily, however, with road accidents on the rise and blood needed for domestic accidents, operations, complicated childbirths, blood transfusion as well as issues of anaemia, donation at both the fixed facilities and the mobile clinics has recently dipped and desperately needs replenishing.

“I hope that more and more people will realise how important it is,” says de Koe. “You save lives and it is such a selfless act to give something, which you have in you for the giving. Namibia has a good donor base but as the nation grows, so will the demand and for the past month, we have certainly seen a dip.”

Indeed with national blood bleeding somewhat dry and concerns abated one can certainly hope that this festive season, Namibians bleed more freely and profusely, not on roads but in donor clinic blood bags. PF