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Blood donation saves lives, yours too

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By Sola Ogundipe

Anyone that has ever donated blood would agree that it is not a big deal. But Nigerians are not in the general habit of donating blood. Why? Part of the problem is steeped in ignorance. The level of ignorance is much. Worse still, the blood transfusion system in Nigeria is still poorly developed as a number of centrs depend on paid donors with questionable health status prior to blood donations. Nigeria is still highly reliant on family replacement and paid donors. Less than 10 percent of donations in Nigeria are from voluntary donors.

Every adult male has averagely 5.5 – 6.0 litres of blood. A woman has 4.7-5.0 litres. When you donate what is being collected is about 500ml every six months. In the developed world they do not have to beg people to donate blood. People just go to the blood centre and donate.

Voluntary blood donation is a healthy habit

The need to support voluntary, unpaid blood donations in order to ensure a reliable supply of safe blood  to patients who require blood transfusion has been apparent. Voluntary blood donation is a healthy habit.

But many people are afraid to donate blood for reasons varying from worry about pain to contracting a disease. Director of Family Health & Nutrition, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Dr. Folasade Oludara says it is because people are ignorant of the importance of donating blood.

“It is not our culture to donate, but we should make it our culture. If we do not donate blood, who is going to donate blood? Only human beings can donate blood. We cannot manufacture it. Donating blood is important for the donor and the recipient.

“Blood is life. When we need blood there is often no prior warning, so blood must always be available. The blood must be available when it is needed. If you are in a situation that demands blood, you will realise that indeed, blood is life. In other countries this advocacy for blood donation isn’t there. “

Further, Oludara said: “If you donate blood, what you are doing is rejuvenating your body. You are replenishing your resources for optimal performance. You are subjecting your bone marrow cells to be challenged so that they can serve you better. The level of life expectancy is reducing because people are not taking care of their health.

“I am advising relatives to always donate blood. Donation is part of a series. You will be tested and your blood level also tested. If your blood is taken it is an indication that you are in good health. If your wish to donate is declined or you are declared not fit to donate, then you should get to the bottom of the problem.”

Donating blood is safe, thanks to the many precautions in place, so there is no reason to fear giving blood. When you give blood you lose red blood cells and the body needs to make more to replace them. Your body makes about two million new red blood cells every second, so it only takes a number of weeks to build up stores of them again. Production of the white blood cells and platelets and other messenger proteins are stimulated in the bone marrow, and over the next few days levels return to normal. Male donors need to wait a minimum 12 weeks and females must wait 16 weeks between donations because it takes several weeks for all the red blood cells to be replaced.

Before every blood donation your haemoglobin levels are tested to be sure it is above 125g/l for women and 135g/l for men. This is because any iron deficiency can result in reduced haemoglobin levels, and eventually, if not treated, in iron deficiency anaemia. This deficiency can make you feel tired. After a donation, most people’s haemoglobin levels are back to normal after six to 12 weeks.

Blood volume makes up approximately 8 percent of body weight. About 55 percent of blood is comprised of plasma, of which 90 percent is water. So, although you donate less than a pint of blood at a time, almost half of this is water. That’s why it is important for you to drink plenty of water before you donate and immediately after you’ve donated.

If you follow recommended steps, you will be as prepared as possible to give blood. First you must be certain that you are eligible. You will only be able to give blood only if you are healthy, fit, and not suffering from a current illness. You cannot donate blood if you have a cold, a cough, a virus, an upset stomach, or are pregnant. Certain prescribed medications, such as antibiotics, can make you ineligible to donate blood. Also you must weigh at least 50 kg and be at least 18 years old. You can only donate blood every 56 days. If you have donated blood more recently than that, then you are not eligible again.

Blood production requires iron, so you should eat iron-rich foods for two weeks before you donate. This will help you have strong blood for donation and help you better recuperate after your donation. Iron-rich foods include spinach, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, meat, eggs, and beef. Boost your vitamin C levels by consuming citrus fruit like oranges and grapes  or take vitamin C supplements.

To prepare your body for the loss of blood, it is recommended you drink a lot of water in the 24 hours leading to the donation time, especially when it’s warm. If you are donating plasma or platelets, drink enough fluids two to three hours before your appointment.

Before you donate blood, you should have proper sleep. This will help you feel better and more alert which will help reduce the risk of any adverse reactions to the process. Eat three hours before your donation.

Never give blood if you have not eaten that day. Eating will keep your blood sugar levels stable. You shouldn’t eat heavily. Avoid fatty foods. If you are donating early, eat something light such as cornflakes or bread. If you are giving blood near the middle of the day, have a light lunch. Don’t eat immediately before your appointment. Avoid certain activities: You should not take aspirin,  smoke or take alcohol within 24 hours leading up to your appointment. You should also not chew gum, mints, or candy.

During the donation, wear clothing with sleeves that can be raised above the elbow. Let the person taking your blood know if you have a preferred arm and show them any good veins that have been used successfully in the past to draw blood.

Relax, talk to other donors or read during the donation process. Take the time to enjoy a snack and a drink in the refreshments area immediately after donating. Keep the strip bandage on for the next several hours. To avoid a skin rash, clean the area around the strip bandage with soap and water.

Do not do any heavy lifting or vigorous exercise for the rest of the day. If the needle site starts to bleed, apply pressure to it and raise your arm straight up for about 5-10 minutes or until bleeding stops.

If you experience dizziness or lightheartedness after donation, stop what you are doing and sit down or lie down until you feel better. Avoid performing any activity where fainting may lead to injury for at least 24 hours.

Do you now believe in donating blood? Try to donate once or twice a year. There are voluntary donation centres all around. You should go there and donate. The blood you donate will save a life.


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