Thursday June 30, 2022

Blood is life, pass it on!

February 23, 2020

Ali was born at a hospital. The parents were on cloud nine, as Ali was their first-born. However, this euphoria proved short-lived, as the high level of a blood waste accumulating fast in his veins was threatening his growth as a normal human being.

The remedy was immediate blood exchange transfusion. Another serious challenge to the parents was that Ali’s blood was AB Negative — a rarest and highly in-demand blood type accounting for just 1% of blood donors. The worried parents were asked to arrange blood as soon as possible.

The couple started contacting the family members, but all drew back one by one launching into different excuses. The never say die couple however did not throw in the towel and moved out to arrange blood. They combed the city for days but their toil seemed to be heading nowhere. All they got was just an assurance that they would be communicated as soon as a donor came by.

Their worried faces, tearful eyes, and unsteady gate from exhaustion told of their pain and agony. One day, as they were getting out of the hospital, they got a call from a hospital to their joy that a young voluntary non-remunerated blood donor was on his way to donate blood.

With their hearts pounding heavily in their rib cages, the couple immediately reached the hospital. A few minutes after their arrival, a beaming young man entered the room with a doctor and was introduced to the couple. To their joy, Mr. Mehmood told them that he donated blood every three months and was willing to make another donation should their son needed a second transfusion.

While the couple were on their way to the hospital with a blood bag, they made a solemn pledge that their son would also pass his blood on to the needy patients like Mehmood. Ali is now almost 35 and donates his rare blood twice a year, following in the footsteps of his benefactor Mr. Mehmood.

One pint of blood can save up to three lives and Ali has so far helped save the lives of dozens of people. He is a ‘hero’ to his recipients. The blood that Ali has donated over the last 16 years is part of critical supply of Pakistan’s not-so-developed healthcare system, which is currently facing acute safe blood shortage.

Although Ali and many other ‘super donors’ like him have made blood donation a part and parcel of their lives, overall voluntary blood donation levels in Pakistan are at a historic low. Despite 70 per cent of the country’s population being under 29 years, of the 3.5 million blood donations collected annually, only 10 per cent comes from the voluntary donors.

According to the statistics compiled by the Safe Blood Transfusion Program (SBTP) of the Government of Pakistan, the country needs about 3% of its population to donate blood two to three times a year to sustain the blood transfusion system on 100% voluntary non-remunerated blood donations. This figure currently stands even below 1% of the total population of Pakistan.

A nation-wide cross-sectional descriptive study recently conducted in Pakistan to understand the ‘Knowledge, Attitude and Practices’ (KAP) of blood donors showed that 62% of respondents were afraid of contracting blood-borne diseases during the transfusion process. Potential donors also had little confidence in the fate of blood they would donate and believed that blood banks would sell it off.

Misplaced fear of contracting diseases and infections, myths and customs, pain from needle prick, hesitation, anemia, and physical weakness turn out to be some of the main factors responsible for low blood collection in Pakistan. It is due to these factors that even the close family members of a patient needing blood in an emergency situation leave him high and dry.

Consequently, the family has to turn towards the professional blood donors/blood banks, which has its own challenges ranging from higher costs to issues with safety and quality of the blood.

As voluntary non-remunerated blood donors are a source of safe, sustainable blood supply, organisations such as the WHO and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are trying hard to achieve a global framework of action to achieve 100% voluntary non-remunerated blood donations.

As part of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) is playing an active role in bridging gaps to make voluntary non-remunerated donations the primary source of blood requirements in Pakistan. Its Islamabad-based Regional Blood Donor Centre (RBDC) like other health facilities and units in Pakistan arranges blood donation camps at the educational institutions, industrial units, foreign embassies, and public places all the year round and launches awareness campaigns off and on to dispel the unfounded fears and myths and motivate the public for voluntary blood donation.

Established in 1979, the 15-member state of the art Centre has collected and distributed 81,000 units of blood to date. The annual collection stands at approximately 13,000 units of blood, with 70% of the collected blood distributed free of cost among the vulnerable patients suffering from life-threatening conditions.

Sensing the urgency of the issue throwing a gigantic challenge to the country, eminent philanthropist, humanitarian, politician and showbiz celebrity Mr. Abrar Ul Haq soon after taking the PRCS helm took it upon himself to go for a countrywide blood donation campaign to further expand the outreach of the Society’s ‘Safe Blood Program'.

Since the public representatives have massive clout, and influence in their constituencies, Mr. Abrar decided to approach them to lead from the front by donating blood. It was due to his painstaking efforts that a blood donation camp was set up at the Parliament House on Feb 13 where a number of parliamentarians and employees donated blood.

The initiative is every inch in line with the government’s ‘Safe Blood Transfusion Services Program’ launched to augment the national effort aimed at achieving the targets of ‘Safe Blood for All’ campaign under the Vision 2023.

Building up on this highly successful activity, the PRCS plans to take this campaign to all the provincial assemblies, district councils, seminaries, educational institutions, press clubs and bar councils to make all influential segments of the society take ownership of the campaign and play their part in turning it into a huge success.

If every MNA commits 1,000 voluntary donors and every MPA 500 [donors] from his/her constituency to the PRCS, the collected blood and its component can save hundreds of precious lives.

If all segments of the society unite at the PRCS platform and synergize their efforts, no patient or those meeting road traffic crashes will never die in hospitals for want of timely supply of blood.

Blood donation is one of the greatest gifts that a person can give. It is a selfless act, which can have a long-lasting impact on a fellow citizen’s life. Blood regenerates after a few months but a life lost cannot get back. Let us queue up to donate today, as there are lots of deserving people waiting for a donation.

The write is Secretary General of Pakistan Red Crescent Society.