On Monday (Labour Day), I was in an omnibus on my way from Masaka to Kampala, a woman and two men sat next to me. They started talking about a funeral they had just attended. The woman narrated what transpired prior to the death of a 13-year-old girl.
The girl had had mild pain. She was taken to the clinic for a minor check-up. The result showed that her blood levels were low and that she needed blood transfusion. Unfortunately, the clinic did not have blood and referred her to Mulago hospital.
While in an ambulance on the way to Mulago, she died. She was suffering from sickle cell disease and her blood levels were affected by an infection which caused anaemia. Sickle cell is a genetic blood disorder that affects the red blood cells to change shape from doughnut shaped to sickle shape (like crescent moon) leading to a number of complications. Among them is anaemia which is loss of blood and requires blood transfusion.
Someone with sickle cell will need blood more often due to the anaemic nature of the condition. For a person without sickle cell, red blood cells have a lifespan of 120 days yet for a person with sickle cell disease, they last for a period of 10-20 days only.
A week ago, we lost a five-year-old boy who was suffering from sickle cell because blood was not received in time. Many stories of deaths due to unavailability of blood are echoed throughout the whole country. We are experiencing blood shortage and we need more to donate more than ever before.
Although we live in a technology era where everything can been manufactured in factories, including synthetic body parts, technology has not been advanced enough to manufacture blood. The only source of blood for transfusion is from donors.
World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that 300,000 units of blood be collected in Uganda annually. But according to a 2013 report by Integrated Regional Information Network, only 250,000 units are collected of 300,000 recommended, creating a deficit of 50,000 units.
Usually, blood collected is from unpaid voluntary donors who have acted as a foundation for safe blood supply. However, most people have not embraced the culture of voluntary blood donation. Ninety per cent of blood donated comes from students, creating shortage during holidays.
Voluntary blood donation has proved to be difficult. The culture of volunteerism has not been entrenched in our society. One Facebook user commented on a post by a campaign dubbed 77 Days of Giving Blood and asked to first be paid before he can sell his blood, I can’t call this blood donation.
Some people have a tendency of waiting for their relative or a person they know to need blood before they donate. I always pose a simple question; What if he/she needs 10 units, would you now ask for blood from the blood bank which you refused to donate to?
Many people think that by donating blood they do not benefit but only other people gain.
Blood donation allows the replenishment of a blood donor supply which helps his body to function more efficiently. I hope and believe everybody wants a replenished body.
After donation, the human body replaces the blood volume within 48 hours of donation and all of the red blood cells lost during donation are completely replaced within four to eight weeks. The replenishment process can help your body stay healthy and work more efficiently and productively.
Blood donation helps to lower the iron levels in the body which helps to reduce the risk of heart diseases.
To save live we need everybody eligible to donate. Anyone 17 years and above can donate blood.
Even if only two per cent of our population donates twice a year we can have more blood than we need. The surplus can be donated to neighbouring countries like South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo which are in turbulent times. You can walk into any blood bank or collection centres and donate blood.
A small needle prick and little of your time could transform you into a hero. It should be noted that one pint of blood you donate can save three lives.
If you donate and also mobilise four other friends or workmates, you will have saved 15 lives including yours. No one knows when they will need blood. Saving lives starts with you.
Mr Ssebandeke is a Country Representative African Sickle Cell News and World Report – Nigeriaaskamulale@gmail.com