By CHIOMA OBINNA

You will never know how important donating blood is until you are sick.” These were the exact words of Janet Mbagu to anyone who cared to listen.

Few years ago, Janet, 33, was diagnosed with leukemia and her treatment required that she received whole blood and platelets. Whole blood is just as it sounds, it is blood with all of its components intact. It comprises red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets suspended in a proteinaceous fluid called plasma.  While Platelets are irregularly-shaped, colourless bodies that are present in blood.

Thanks to the few voluntary blood donors who have been consistent in donating blood without any monetary reward.

Before then, Janet never knew the importance of blood donation until she was diagnosed with the condition.  She had never donated blood.

To her, donating blood was taboo.  She was one of those who believed that blood donation was not for them.  But today, she is breathing the air of life courtesy of the blood donated by five per cent voluntary blood donors in the country.  But Victor, 4, was not that lucky. Victor has sickle cell anaemia. At 10 months, he was in crisis.

Victor was always in and out of hospital admission.  During these crises, apart from other treatments, he would require blood transfusion.  His frequent crises was not only over-stretching his parents’ bank account, but was becoming a problem to the hospitals as constant blood supply was not regular in the hospital due to inadequate blood donors. Each time, he is admitted, his parents go through a lot of problems getting matching blood.

But Victor was not lucky that day as there was no blood. Frantic efforts by his parents to get the all-important product were in vain.

He died after days of frantic search for blood.  Victor is one of the 700 babies that die every year in Nigeria. How about Rufus Ogbu, who is faced with the burden of caring for his twins from the day they were born? Rufus had accompanied his pregnant  wife, Sarah, to the hospital as she went into labour.

He was excited that his first offspring were about to be delivered 11 months after their wedding.  Little did he know that his joy would be short lived At the hospital, Sarah was ushered into the labour room, few minutes later, she put to bed. 

An hour later, while the doctors were running a check, it was discovered Sarah lost too much blood and needed urgent blood transfusion. The clock ticked and she got weaker and weaker.

Efforts to get blood for her were futile. No blood could be found anywhere.  Rufus volunteered his own blood but, their blood groups didn’t match. The hospital staff ran up and down, but Sarah died on the table. She is one in seven Nigerian women that die during childbirth.

Statistics show that not less than eight million units of blood are needed in Nigeria but only 1.6 million units are collected presently. 

 This is far below the recommendation of the World Health Organisation that 10 per cent of a given population should donate once a year to meet requirements. In Nigeria, voluntary blood donation is still less than five  per cent.

Today, many Nigerians hardly donate blood voluntarily. For those who donate, they are forced to do it either because a family member needs it or for economic reasons. But experts say the safest blood donors are voluntary, non- remunerated blood donors from low-risk populations.

 Studies have shown that blood from such donors have been associated with significant higher prevalence of transfusion-transmissible infections (TTIs) including HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, syphilis and Chagas disease.

WHO estimates that 5-10 per cent of HIV & AIDS infections in Africa occur from unsafe blood transfusions, 25 per cent of maternal deaths are attributed to a lack of blood for transfusion. Correspondingly, 15 per cent of child mortality in Africa may be due to the lack of an adequate supply of safe blood for transfusion.

Also, statistics from WHO programme on blood transfusion safety, which access blood safety trends, safety and priorities show that less than one per cent of the population of developing countries donate blood, compared with over 65 per cent in developed countries. Despite these startling statistics family replacement and paid donors has remained the main source of blood recruitment in Nigeria.

Apart from saving lives, studies have shown that  people who voluntarily donate blood have the likelihood of living longer. Researchers found that  the majority of the people who are regular blood donors rarely suffer from anaemia of the aged or the anaemia of the elderly.

According to the Head of Haematology Department, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr Sulaimon Akanmu, donating blood voluntarily has been linked to longer life in those who do it regularly.

According to Akanmu, the marrow is kept under challenge for a long period of their life, so their marrow does not age. The level of their blood is just as if they are young. These individuals have enough oxygen carrying capacity at all the time. They deliver oxygen to their tissue not at a reduced period but all the time.

“The bone marrow of a regular donor is under constant challenge because as he grows, his  bone marrow tends to age. It ages from red marrow (capable of forming blood), to yellow marrow (incapable of forming blood) and to yellow marrow (that can never form blood). For people who are regular volunteer blood donors, their marrow age from red to yellow.”

Akanmu also dismissed the general belief that when people donate blood, they give out part of their body that is not replaceable and that  they run short of blood and their lives at risk.   He said the only true thing is that the cell of a regular blood donor does not age fast and he or she has the likelihood to live a longer life.

On why blood is needed in the blood banks, the Executive Secretary of the Lagos State Blood Transfusion Committee, Dr.  Olusola Oyekan, said blood is needed in the blood bank for emergency purposes such as; Obstetric, medical, paediatric, neonatal and mass casualty emergencies. 

 She lamented that in spite of these situations, the  misconception surrounding blood donation has contributed to why the country is yet to achieve 100 per cent voluntary blood donations and has also fuel commercialisation of blood and blood products in the country.

In his views, Chief Blood Recruitment Officer and Haematologist, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) Mr. Anthony Ajayi, noted that safe blood saves lives and improves health.
 
Ajayi further explained that blood donation helps to replace blood lost in childbirth which is a  major cause of maternal deaths worldwide, to treat severe anaemia that threatens the lives of thousands of children who have malaria or are undernourished, women with complications of pregnancy, such as ectopic pregnancies and haemorrhage before, during or after childbirth amongst medical ailments.

He further lamented that “The globe is grouped into categories A, B and C nations. Nigeria is not in any category. Countries such as Togo and Benin are in category A. But Nigeria is not any category because people have not been well informed about voluntary safe blood donation. As at now, there is ignorance about donating blood”.

Overview of Blood donation
Blood donation is carried out when a person voluntarily agrees for blood to be drawn with the intention of donating it. The donated blood may be used for transfusions or it may be separated into individual components to be used as required. The latter procedure is called fractionation.

Blood donation may be of different kinds. In the developed countries, unpaid donors give blood to replenish a community supply. In economically-poorer countries, however, blood donation is carried out according to demand, as the established blood ties are extremely limited. It may be an altruistic act or it may include a cash payment or incentives other than money. A person can have blood drawn and stored for own future use.

Nine reasons for donating blood

*Someone needs blood every three seconds. An average of 40,000 units is needed every day in some countries. There is no substitute for human blood.

*60 per cent of the population will need blood at some time in their lives, yet less than five per cent of the population donates.

*Disasters like car accidents, fires, and other trauma cases happen every day and these patients need blood, and rarely do they need only one pint. A bleeding trauma victim can run through 100 units of blood in no time.

*Because of growing and aging population, as well as the huge expansion of health care facilities, blood usage is growing at three times the national rate. Blood usage outpaces donor collections.

*If all eligible donors would donate on a regular basis, four to six times a year, blood needs would be met and shortages could be a thing of the past.

*The generation of blood donation is fast disappearing and other new donors are not stepping forward to replace them.

*Donating blood is safe and a healthy thing to do. Not only do you get a free mini-physical, including blood pressure check, heart rate, temperature and iron levels, but it is the fastest way to lose a pound.

*For men, there is a lifesaving benefit to donating blood. Men are at higher risk for “hemochromatosis or iron overload” a potentially deadly problem where too much iron builds up in the blood. It can lead to heart disease and other major health problems. Research shows if  men give blood three times a year, they can reduce their iron overload and therefore their risk of a heart attack by as much as 50 per cent.

*Blood donors are true heroes. In fact, your one blood donation will be broken down into several components, enabling you, with just one donation, to save up to three lives.

Blood Types – Knowing your Blood type
Knowing your blood type is extremely important, as some blood types are needed more than others are. The reason for this is that some blood types can only give or receive from other blood types. For example, a person who has a blood type that is O negative can give to anyone with any blood type. However, a person who has blood type that is O negative can only receive blood that is O negative.

Another example is that a person with AB positive blood type can receive from anyone, but can only give to AB positive blood type. It is important that you know your blood type when giving and receiving blood as it can make all the difference in the world for a person.

The Blood types are: A Positive, A Negative, Positive, Negative, B Positive, B Negative, AB Positive and AB Negative.
Where can I donate Blood?

There are a variety of places that offer regular blood drives.  The best place is the hospitals and other public blood recruiting centres.

Make out time out of your busy schedules and save a life today by donating a pint of your blood. It might be you that will use it. It is important you find a way to remind yourself to donate blood on a regular basis. The need for blood often outweighs the supply.

Here are some helpful tips on how you can remind yourself to donate blood.
Understand  how often you can donate – some areas only allow blood donations every eight weeks and others specify the number of time yearly you can give blood. Write your blood donation dates on a calendar you look at often Think about how often you wish to donate, then make and keep that commitment.
Who needs a blood transfusion

Blood transfusions are very common. This procedure is used for people of all ages. Many people who have surgery need blood transfusions because they lose blood during their operations. For example, about one-third of all heart surgery patients have a transfusion. Some people who have serious injuries—such as from car crashes, war, or natural disasters—need blood transfusions to replace blood lost during the injury. Some people need blood or parts of blood because of  illnesses. You may need a blood transfusion if you have:  A severe infection or liver disease that stops your body from properly making blood or some parts of blood.

An illness that causes anaemia, such as kidney disease or cancer. Medicines or radiation used to treat a medical condition also can cause anaemia. There are many types of anaemia, including aplastic, Fanconi, hemolytic, iron-deficiency, and sickle cell anaemias and thalassemia.

A bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia or thrombocytopenia. In conclusion, donating blood is something we should all consider, we never know when there is a need for blood. Therefore, donating on a regular basis will help ensure that there is a good supply on hand in the event of an emergency.

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.