Lack of awareness on voluntary blood donation explains acute scarcity of safe blood in most hospitals, responsible officials have declared.
This has led to an increase in the number of referred patients from junior hospitals to referrals such as the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) in Dar es Salaam and the increase of deaths mainly among expectant mothers from excessive bleeding during delivery.
Dr Said Mwamba, a laboratory manager at Mwananyamala hospital, now elevated to a Kinondoni district referral hospital, told this paper that blood demand at the hospital is rising due to various factors including HIV/Aids –related diseases.
Some drugs taken by people leaving with HIV/Aids have negative effects including loss of blood, leading to an he increase in blood transfusion needs, he said.
“Our hospital safe blood demand is 160 units per month but we receive 115 to 137 units from the National Blood Transfusion Services (NBTS) which is below the demand, and therefore some patients die while others are referred to the national hospital,” affirmed Dr Mwamba. A unit of blood is a 450-milligrammme bottle.
A good number of people donate blood when their relatives are in need of it but there is a small number of people with no patients at hospitals who volunteer to donate blood.
“In May we colleted 117 units of relatively unsafe blood and only eight people out of thoses donating had no patients at the hospital while the rest donated because they had a patient. This shows lack of awareness among Tanzanians on blood donation,” said Dr Mwamba.
This reporter managed to visit the blood bank at the hospital and found only one blood unit for group A and a few units of other groups that explicitly illustrated the shortage of safe blood at the hospital.
Mwamba noted that in previous years Denmark brought safe blood at Muhimbili Orthopedic Institute (MOI) but the programme came to an end, saying it was a shame for a country with a huge population of more 40 million to depend on blood donated by foreign blood donors from a small country like Denmark.
He said sometimes the hospital faced a blood shortage crisis and obtained support from Lugalo millitary hospital by conducting blood donation programs at army camps.
He also talked of bad practice by some unscrupulous hospital officials selling blood to patients or their relatives.
“A few years ago there were people who pretended as nurses sold blood to patients. We caught them and reported to Oysterbay police station, but now we have managed to solve the problem. No one sells blood again at the hospital and we are strict on that,” the laboratory manager intoned.
He also blamed some TV advertisements giving the impression of sufficiency in blood banks in hospitals, saying this habit brings up conflicts between doctors and patients’ relatives who are in need of blood.
When reached for comment, the Eastern Zone quality systems officer at NBTS, Ndeonasia Towo said there is huge gap between collected blood and demand, similarly blaming lack of awareness among people as a major cause.
He said only 33 per cent of hospitals that offer blood transfusion services receive safe blood from NBTS zones, with poor infrastructures being among barriers facing the blood collection programme particularly from interior areas.
However he noted that there is increase of blood collection from 52,000 units in 2006 to 120,000 units in 2009 but the increase has not fulfilled the demand of 350,000 units annually.
“Still we have many challenges including lack of human resources, finance, equipments and the limited mobilization of communities and leaders,” said Towo.
In order to overcome the challenges NBTS has introduced guidelines on appropriate use of blood and blood products, meanwhile as the transfusion services are in the process of changing the program to a fully fledged authority having its own estimates from the government.
Towo urged Tanzanians to eradicate the poor attitude concerning blood donation because the program also helps blood donors to know their HIV status and work to preserve it or accept it.
“Blood donation is also a cure for those with excess blood in their bodies, and we provide education for donors on HIV and STD’s,” he said.
“If a person is found positive we tell him how to live and remain positive and vice versa to one found negative. I insist that knowing your blood status is not compulsory but we like you to be eager to know it,” the official added.