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Imperative of safe blood in Nigeria

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Blood donation

Over the years the paucity of safe blood for use in health care has been a recurring decimal. This year, again, the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), have raised alarm over the safety and availability of blood units in Nigeria. This clearly shows that there is a deficit, which is a lamentable situation that requires urgent attention.

According to the health bodies, 95 per cent of donor blood units used yearly in the country are unsafe, as they could be infected with Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) 1 and 2, syphilis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and other deadly infectious diseases.

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In addition, they stated that Nigeria needs two million units of safe blood yearly but produces only 25,000 even as only five per cent of donor blood used in Nigeria comes from voluntary donors. According to them, family replacement and paid donors are still major sources of donor blood procurement, even as poor infrastructure, inadequate manpower, underfunding and inadequate regulation mar provision of safe blood in the country.

Attempts by some states of the federation to boost blood donation by making it mandatory for spouses of pregnant women to donate blood before they are registered in public hospitals for ante-natal care is scaring many pregnant women away from public hospitals delivery. This is an index of Nigeria’s failure in healthcare ranking.

This is a major national challenge because poor availability of blood in the hospitals, when it is needed, is one of the reasons millions die needlessly from loss of blood during childbirth and accidents. Essentially, donating blood can save a patient’s life and limit the complications of severe blood loss, which can lead to a seriously low haemoglobin level and cause damage to body organs.

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To address this shortfall, 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. This implies that the voluntary, commercial and family replacement donors are less than one per cent of Nigeria’s population.

Despite this common knowledge, many Nigerians are not in the habit of donating blood because of superstition and religious beliefs; which combine to fuel a negative attitude of the public to voluntary blood donation. The common reasons given for not donating blood are unfounded because, on the contrary, blood donation is beneficial to the donor. 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. Also, 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. So, Nigerians should not be afraid to donate blood. A donor’s age must be between 18 and 60 years and he or she must weigh more than 45 kilogrammes. Also, the donor’s blood pressure must be normal. Premature ventricular contraction (PVC) that regulates the heartbeat 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 wait time helps to replenish the blood levels in the donor’s body. Anyway, before giving blood, it is good to have 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. On the day of donation, the donor must make sure he or she is well hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.

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In case the donor is undergoing any treatment or is on medication, he or she should consult the doctor; and also inform the blood bank/clinic/hospital where blood is to be donated.

So, Nigerians should donate blood now because human blood cannot be manufactured; humans are the only source! As Nigerians, all should see blood donation as a personal responsibility to help others. As such, 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 donate blood.

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To address the shortfall in the availability of blood for health care, this year’s World Blood Donor Day (WBDD), focused on changing the narrative on the paucity of safe blood availability with the slogan ‘‘Give blood and keep the world-beating,’’ which is targeted at raising global awareness on the need for safe blood for transfusion; and the critical contribution voluntary, unpaid blood donors make to national health systems. The WBDD day also provides an opportunity to call to action governments and national health authorities to provide adequate resources and put in place systems to increase the collection of blood from voluntary, non-remunerated blood donors.

Thus, at the macro level, it is instructive that Nigerian medical experts have urged President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the National Blood Service Commission Bill, which was recently passed by the National Assembly as a panacea to improve funding and regulation of blood transfusion services in Nigeria. When passed, the law hopefully will change the reality and narratives on the availability of safe blood for health care in Nigeria.

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