It is safe and healthy to donate blood 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and partners are marking ‘20 years of celebrating giving: thank you blood donors!’ With less than 10 per cent of Nigerians donating blood voluntarily, the country is currently reeling under the onslaught of serious shortage of safe blood products with dire consequences. The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Akin Abayomi, last week urged more citizens to embrace voluntary blood donation to shore up the state’s blood bank. “There is something important I want to call our attention to, the voluntary donor rate is still on the low side, which means certain patients will be without access to blood,” Abayomi said. “Looking at the demographic of Lagos, the blood-donating group is young adults, and we only have seen 130,000 donors, which is not enough.”

Nigeria needs an average of 1.8 million pints of blood annually whereas the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) collects only 500,000 pints of blood with a shortfall of about 73.3 per cent. This has resulted in a situation in which most hospitals and patients in the country depend on commercial donors for their blood needs. In other countries, people usually donate blood voluntarily because it feels good to help others, and such altruism has been linked to a lower risk for depression and greater longevity. 

According to medical practitioners, those who need blood transfusion include victims who have been involved in road accident and have lost blood, patients going for surgery and those with blood disorder, like sickle cell anaemia. There are also patients whose blood doesn’t clot (hereditary bleeding disease e. g. haemophilia) as well as children whose blood cells have been depleted by malaria. Cancer patients also use lots of blood as well as those with burns. Women on antenatal or about to deliver a baby use lot of blood while statistics have indeed revealed that women use at least 53 per cent of the blood that is collected, men only use 47 per cent. “In Nigeria, 80-90 per cent of maternal mortality is as a result of bleeding complications that we are not able to manage due to shortage of blood,” according to Suleiman Akanmu, a Professor of Haematology and Blood Transfusion at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos. 

Unfortunately, whereas several other countries within the continent like Uganda, Egypt and Kenya have embraced 100 per cent voluntary, non-remunerated blood donation by their citizens, Nigerians have not imbibed the habit. Given that there is so much ignorance about blood donation in our country, there is need for the relevant health authorities to partner with the media and the civil societies on the benefit of voluntary blood donation to the larger society. That will help to allay some of the myths and misconceptions associated with blood donation, especially given the belief in certain quarters that the donated blood could be used for rituals. An urgent public enlightenment is needed to address the fears often bandied.  

Medically, people who donate blood regularly are very healthy as such habit has no side effect. According to experts, the amount of blood usually taken from a person is only 450 mills and a healthy individual has 10-12 times that quantity while the little that is taken would be generated back to the body within two to four weeks. What the foregoing suggests is that it is very safe and indeed healthy to donate blood and we urge Nigerians, who ordinarily care for the welfare of their fellow citizens, to embrace the habit of voluntary donation so we can have a robust blood bank.  

As we call on Nigerians to make blood donation a habit, we hope the relevant health authorities will also ensure that donated blood is properly screened to avoid storing infected blood which have also sent many to untimely grave. 

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