Sunday, 3rd December 2023

Blood donation to redress blood shortage

By Editorial Board
12 July 2023   |   3:55 am
The inability of Nigeria to meet more than a quarter of her blood needs is not salutary; and it constitutes a national challenge to fulfilling a reasonable portion of the country’s health requirement.

The inability of Nigeria to meet more than a quarter of her blood needs is not salutary; and it constitutes a national challenge to fulfilling a reasonable portion of the country’s health requirement. The situation whereby blood is so scarce that the country can only produce 500,000 units of the two million units demanded by a teeming population of more than 200 million is pathetic; and can only worsen her poor health delivery system. Ensuring access of all patients, who require transfusion to safe, effective, and quality-assured blood products, is a key component of an effective health system and vital for patient safety.

Nigeria is still hit by blood supply shortage and the country has failed to meet World Health Organisation (WHO) requirements. Speaking lately at a ceremony to globally mark World Blood Donor Day (WBDD), the Acting Director General, National Blood Services Commission (NBSC), Dr Joseph Amedu, explained that based on WHO standard, every country is to have a minimum of one per cent of blood unit of her population for operations.

According to him, blood is still a scarce commodity in Nigeria, as the country is only able to produce 25 per cent – that is 500,000 – of the two million units of blood required yearly. Essentially, Nigeria requires additional 1.5 million pints of blood per annum from voluntary and commercial donors or through family replacement to address this shortfall.

This reality is scary and a major national challenge because insufficient or unsafe blood supply for transfusion, when it is needed, has a negative impact on the effectiveness of key health services and programmes to provide appropriate patient care in numerous acute and chronic conditions, and it is one of the reasons millions die needlessly.

Addressing the problem will certainly require a holistic approach, given that poverty and poor nutritious levels of the majority of Nigerians are inhibiting factors. Many people believe they lack adequate blood supply personally, and consider it inimical to their health to donate from the low level. Yet, some others donate simply to make money and reduce their poverty-stricken status. Both categories are unlikely to relieve the country of its blood shortage, just as they increase the risk of low quality blood for medical purposes. Coupled with these are the religious or superstitious disinclinations of many citizens to blood donation. Government and relevant non-governmental organisations will certainly need to embark on mass, regular and sustained public enlightenment campaigns to address these problems.

According to WHO, safe, effective, and quality-assured blood products contribute to improving and saving millions of lives every year, as they address child mortality and maternal health, in particular loss of blood during childbirth; dramatically improve the life expectancy and quality of life of patients suffering from life-threatening inherited disorders, such as haemophilia, thalassaemia and immune deficiency, and acquired conditions such as cancer and traumatic haemorrhage; support complex medical and surgical procedures, including transplantation; and limit the complications of severe blood loss from accidents.

Against the backdrop that Nigeria is not self-sufficient in donated blood, reversing the blood supply shortage in order to meet the required two million units of blood yearly may require using commercial donors at the cost of N60,000 per unit. This shows that Nigeria needs N90 billion to produce the balance of 1.5 million.  However, there is a realistic alternative, which is voluntary blood donation, as WHO says that one per cent blood donation by one per cent of the population can meet a nation’s most basic requirements for blood.

Specifically, WHO in 1997 set a goal for all blood donations to come from voluntary non-remunerated donors, who donate blood regularly, three-four times/year, to ensure regular availability of blood and blood products at any given time.

As such, in line with the theme of this year’s WBDD: “Give Blood, Give Plasma, Share Life, Share Often,” which underlies the role every single person can play, by giving the valuable gift of blood, Nigerians can collectively latch on it and change the country’s narrative of scarcity in blood supply to sufficiency through voluntary blood donation across the country.

Therefore, Nigerians should jettison superstition and religious beliefs, and the negative attitude to voluntary blood donation by willingly and regularly donating blood to enable sufficiency of blood for those who need it. Indeed, blood donation is also beneficial to the donor, because by donating blood, the iron stores in the body are maintained at healthy levels, hence helps in reducing the risk of heart and liver ailments caused by iron overload in the body. Again, a reduction in the iron level in the body can reduce cancer risk. In addition, it is a weight management strategy as regular blood donation reduces the weight of the donor. So, it is good for people who are obese and at higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and other health related disorders to donate blood.

Furthermore, after donating blood, the body works to replenish the blood loss, which stimulates the production of new blood cells and in turn helps in maintaining good health. Obviously, donating blood is good for the health of donors as well as those who need blood. Therefore, Nigerians should not be afraid to donate blood.

The Federal Ministry of Health, the National Orientation Agency, and health focused NGOs should sensitise Nigerians on the benefits of blood donation and the need to voluntarily donate blood.  Again, the sensitisation should include that a donor must be between 18-60 years and weighs more than 45 kilograms. Others are that the donor’s blood pressure must be normal, premature ventricular contraction (PVC) that regulates the heart beat and pumping of blood must be at an acceptable level; and a minimum gap of 56 days is required between donations for the blood to reload.

In addition, individuals can donate one unit or 350 ml of blood every eight weeks. This waiting time helps to replenish the blood levels in the donor’s body.  Anyway, before donating blood, it is good to have a healthy diet weeks before the donation, which can be achieved from local foods and plants so long as the appropriate method of cooking is adopted for preparation; while on the day of donation, a donor should be well hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. In case the donor is undergoing any treatment or on medication, the donor should consult the doctor; and also inform the blood bank/clinic/hospital where blood is to be donated.

The blood situation in the country is a wake-up call to every Nigerian to donate blood now and often because human blood cannot be manufactured; humans are the only source! Blood donation should be seen as a personal responsibility to help mankind. Government should fulfil its part by giving all necessary assurances to the public and ensuring proper screening for safe transfusion.