One pint of blood, one life saved

blood-donationI was recently at a blood donation centre to donate blood. 14 out of my 16 donations have been at this facility. As usual, the place was full with replacement donors, and being the only voluntary donor there at the time, I was accorded “royal” treatment; this royal treatment included having no place to sit while waiting and attendants disturbing the peace with loud chatter, not to mention that I was rewarded with a hot canned drink and a tin of chocolate powder, both squeezed into a rectangular aluminium bag that used to be the comfortable packaging for the blood bags my blood was collected into. As I meandered through the sea of people and obstacles out of the room, my mind was occupied by my sad assessment of the whole activity, rather than the good I had done.All the same, I will be back there in four months to donate another pint, because that simple act of kindness may be the difference between life and death for someone, probably myself.

That red fluid that runs through your body is an invaluable commodity; it has no substitute. There are many people with chronic illnesses who depend on blood and blood products for survival. There are also those who find themselves in emergency situations in which immediate blood transfusion is mandatory for survival, from accident victims to bleeding pregnant women. Together, the requirements of these individuals surpass 30, 000 units of blood per year. However, we meet only 60% of this demand.

Most of the blood donated to our National Blood Service is from replacement donors; these are individuals who come to donate in replacement for blood received by a relative or friend. This is not a sustainable way of ensuring that we have adequate stores of safe blood in the country. The ideal situation is for 100% of a nation’s blood needs to be obtained from voluntary donors. In Ghana the situation is far from ideal; the WHO estimates that less than half (43%) of the blood needs of Ghana comes from voluntary donors.

It is time for a turnaround and we all have a part to play to make this turnaround possible.

The most important player in this venture is the volunteer. It is time for us to be individually convicted of the need to give of ourselves for the benefit of others. This is a principle that permeates our religious and cultural fabric and it should thus not be difficult for us to bring that typically Ghanaian attitude of helping each other to bear.

There is, however, a lot of hesitation when the idea of blood donation is fronted. This hesitation emanates from the many myths and misconceptions surrounding the activity of blood donation. But there is really only one truth: blood donation is a safe enterprise that brings you satisfaction and gives a lifeline to someone on the precipice. There is no risk of contracting an infectious disease from the needles; the needles and bags are used only once and discarded afterwards. Donating blood will also not cause hypertension, cancer or any other disease conjured by the imagination. And please, nobody’s blood will be used for rituals.

If every three generations of a family had just one regular voluntary donor, our blood needs would be addressed. If every adult donated blood only once in their lifetime, Ghana would have no unmet needs for blood and blood products.

The National Blood Service must also intensify its awareness campaigns. I donated blood for the first time in secondary school, after a seminar on the importance of blood donation. My passion for donation was sparked immediately after that seminar and I have been regularly donating blood since then. I am sure there are many latently passionate Ghanaians out there who are waiting for the opportunity to donate. For a start, tertiary and second cycle institutions can be targeted. Should this donation drive be organized even only in every tertiary institution twice a year, our donation deficit would be well on its way to being abated.

Reckoning that many voluntary donors prefer to donate out of the hospital setting, non-hospital based voluntary donor centres should also be set up across the country. Such a centre should be a comfortable, welcoming place, devoid of the chaos we typically see at our hospitals. It should be a place where people can feel relaxed and come in at will to donate. It should be a place where you would want to visit twice.

Corporate and civil society organizations should also continue to engage in blood donation campaigns as part of their social activities. These drives have been potent contributors to the blood stocks of the country, and are the source of almost all the voluntarily donated blood.

Apart from the good you will be doing when you donate blood, you get the opportunity to perform a medical check-up free of charge. Your weight and blood pressure are checked, your blood group and haemoglobin concentration are checked and an infectious disease screen is carried out, all at no cost. But the real motivation is in knowing that you are saving a life.

To make blood and blood products readily accessible and safer for everyone, we need to increase our voluntary-donor base. It is time for a turnaround. The altruism Ghanaians are known for needs to show on the blood donation front.

Make that sacrifice of giving your blood to save a life; that life may very well turn out to be your own.