Why voluntary blood donations should be encouraged

Monday May 23 2022
Blood pic

The government pledges to provide enough and quality blood. PHOTO | GETTY IMAGES

By Hellen Nachilongo

A sufficient blood supply is a key part of an effective health care system and essential for disease prevention.

However the majority of Tanzanians do not know the importance of voluntary blood donation nor have the culture of donation.

Voluntary blood donation is still a foreign concept to the majority of Tanzanians, hence the need for the sensitisation of the community to raise the awareness on voluntary blood donation and other necessary information regarding blood safety.

Mr Eric Sichalwe (40), a resident of Mbezi Msakuzi never thought that he could one day donate blood until his younger brother was in a serious need for blood.

Of course he knew that people can donate blood and the collected liquid could be used for various things including blood transfusion to support people in need of blood.

But not for a single day had he thought of visiting a blood centre or hospital facility to donate blood voluntarily until June last year when his young brother was seriously injured and the doctor recommended surgery for him.

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According to him, due to a big wound that his young brother had sustained, experts urgently required blood to increase the blood level to help save his life.

Mr Sichalwe narrates that his young brother sustained a serious wound on his right thigh and lost a lot of blood because one of the veins was so damaged such that the patient was losing so much blood through it.

“After watching my young brother lose so much blood, I did not hesitate to donate blood to save the life of my brother and to enable the surgery to take place,” he said.

“I therefore encourage the government to provide a huge campaign awareness so that people could learn and see the benefits of donating blood voluntarily. Unlike it is at the moment where many wait for close relative to be in need blood to contribute,” he adds.

He emphasises how from the time he donated blood, he has learnt how extremely important blood donation.

The blood you give could save the life of a woman suffering birth complications, revive and sustain a child with severe anaemia, facilitate urgent surgery, or provide critical support during a public health crisis.


Blood centre accredition

Government Chief Medical Officer, Dr Saitole Laizer said that there is a need for Tanzanians to voluntarily donate blood as the demand is still high due to a number of reasons, including accidents.

He said this recently when the Africa Society for Blood Transfusion (AfSB) approved six zonal blood centres with international accreditation, thus improving blood transfusion safety.

The centres are those in the northern zone (Arusha), eastern (Dar es Salaam), western (Tabora), southern highland, lake zone and Zanzibar.

He said the approval of the six zonal blood centres adds to a total number of 50 blood transfusion centres and puts the country in the third position in Africa for having blood transfusion centres that meet international standards.

He said upgrading the other six centres will be a catalyst to save people’s lives and attract people within their communities to donate blood.

According to him, most expectant mothers require blood transfusion during delivery.

“We want our people to access quality and safe blood anywhere across the country. I am impressed that our Zanzibar centre has also been accredited,” he remarked.

Dr Laizer said that women can voluntarily donate blood three times a year while men can do so four times annually.

He said that government and partners have been working to maintain the blood transfusion standards to ensure those in need get safe and quality blood.

Dr Laizer added that with the accreditation, Tanzania is positioned to sell some blood products to other African countries. These products include fresh blood plasma and platelets.

“When a patient has a problem of blood clotting, he/she would need platelets while others would need fresh frozen plasma to help form blood clots to slow or stop bleeding and help the wounds heal,” he explained.


Demand for donated blood

The National Blood Transfusion Services (NBTS) Programme Manager, Dr Magdalena Lyimo, said the current country’s blood demand is 550,000 bottles annually but they can only collect 330,000 bottles a year which is equivalent to 60 percent.

She said, “Blood donation is vital because it helps to rescue people’s lives including pregnant women therefore people should be encouraged to donate blood to meet the annual demand.”

She said efforts are on-going to educate people on the importance of donating blood. She said most of the people, especially in rural areas, are still reluctant to donate blood.

Chief Operating Officer at Management and Development for Health (MDH), Dr Nzove Ulenga said that accreditation of the labs would result in enhanced trust among blood users, but it also puts Tanzania in a position of selling its blood products to other African countries.

Dr Ulenga added that MDH has been working closely with the government towards improvement of health services.

He said the organisation also supports government efforts in the fight against HIV/Aids and tuberculosis (TB), among others.

Dr Katare Swahibu, Executive Manager, AfSBT said they have been implementing a number of projects to improve blood transfusion services in the country which includes training of experts.

“The accreditation journey in Tanzania started with education. Accreditation is one of the most important symbols of an organization’s commitment to provide high quality and safety health care services,” said Swahibu.

According to him, accreditation has a number of benefits which includes quality and safety of care, documented processes, effective team work, reduced costs and enhanced organizational cultures.

Blood transfusion services were established in the country in 2005 under the National Blood Transfusion Services (NBTS) with support from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR).