KARACHI, June 13: Mohammad Ali Ghazi, 50, a businessman who has been voluntarily donating blood for more than 33 years, says it was his education and training at school that motivated him about regular donations.
“I have donated around 100 units of blood which have definitely been used to save lives of others in need during these years at an NGO’s blood collection set-up.”
Mohammad Iqbal Baloch, 32, a government hospital employee, started donating blood in the mid-90s for thalassaemia children and now he is a regular donor.
He says: “An individual may donate two to three times a year and stay completely healthy.”
M. Iqbal Bawany, in his 30s, associated with a government hospital-run blood bank, says that he has donated about 24 bags of blood over the past eight years and does not want to discontinue the practice, because each donation refreshes him.
“My donation may also benefit needy patients, including those suffering from cancerous diseases or renal failure and depending highly on blood transfusion.”
A social worker associated with a welfare society, Rizwan Edhi, 36, says he feels the hardship of people seeking blood or those running here and there for a pint of blood for their relatives, particularly those coming from the interior of Sindh.
“I have been donating on average one unit a year for the past 10 years as sadqa jaria with the sense that if I am helping others today, someone will also help me in my hour of need tomorrow,” he says.
Such actions not only reflect the generosity and kindness of the self-motivated blood donors, but also ensure a sustainable supply of blood at hospitals across the country.To appreciate voluntary unpaid blood donors for their life-saving gifts of blood, the World Health Organisation observes June 14 as World Blood Donor Day every year by organising various events, which also help raise awareness about safe blood practices.
“Every blood donor is a hero” is this year’s theme of WHO campaign.
Focusing on the idea, Dr Sarfaraz H. Jafri, administrator of Hussaini Haematology and Oncology Trust, says that there is a dire need to keep donors’ spirits up for the sake of men, women and children in need of blood and plasma.
Of about 2.6 million blood units (450 ml) needed every year in the country, it is estimated that only between 1.2 and 1.5 million blood units are available.
Most of these units (80 to 83 per cent) come through friends or family blood donors and five to seven per cent units are donated by volunteers, while 10 to 13 per cent units are arranged through commercial donors. The donated blood is consumed largely by thalassaemia children, patients undergoing surgeries, accident victims, gynaecology/ obstetric cases, blood cancer and dialysis patients and others.
According to Dr Jafri, there are some myths and misconceptions associated with blood donation due to which the country needs largely remain unmet. Firstly, people believe that major demand of blood arises only in mass emergencies. Secondly, they suppose that families can cater for the need of blood for an individual patient. Thirdly, they consider blood donation as a cause of physical weakness. Fourthly, they believe only very strong and healthy people can donate blood and women are not fit to donate blood. Fifthly, they suspect that blood donated voluntarily may be used in hospitals or by blood collecting organisations for commercial purposes.
He says that healthy men and women generally have between 11 and 13 pints of blood in their bodies and donation of one unit does not have any harmful effect on a donor rather regular blood donation is a healthy activity that lifts self-esteem and promotes positive attitude of a donor.
Regular blood donation benefits donors in that they undergo medical examinations as a matter of routine and get early diagnosis in case of an illness, he adds.
The proactive habit helps regular blood donors to lead a very effective and successful life, says Dr Mohammad Anwar, a blood bank officer at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre. He explains that it is observed that heart ailments and hypertension are uncommon in regular voluntary donors than in the non-blood donor population of same sex and age group.
Highlighting the need for an urgent increase in the number of voluntary or unpaid blood donations and the overall collection of blood units in the country, he says that chances of prevalence of infections, including hepatitis, HIV and malaria, are very minimal in voluntary donors.
About seven per cent of the exchange blood donations received at the JPMC blood bank last year were found reactive for Hepatitis B and C, while the same was 1.2 per cent in voluntary blood donations, explains Dr Anwar.
The shortfall between supply and utilisation of blood units can be reduced also by judicious prescription of blood and maximising the blood component preparation, he adds.
Blood donation safety depends on pre-donation evaluation and screening of donors to ensure safety of donors and recipients, says Salima Khowaja, a clinical research associate at the National Institute of Blood Diseases. Voluntary donations are always preferred, for such donors give blood solely for moral, ethical, religious or personal satisfaction instead of monetary interest, she adds.
“However, less than 10 per cent blood donors are voluntary in our country. They include donors from universities, factories and other sources. There can be even fewer donors among them who may not be under any kind of social or peer pressure for the donation,” she remarks.
Local guidelines, she says, suggest that people between 18 and 50 years can get registered themselves as blood donors. More than 50-kg weight is usually recommended for blood donation, while people with hypertension and diabetes are not accepted as blood donors, adds Ms Khowaja.
A consultant haematologist at Omair Sana Foundation, Dr Saquib Ansari, says that there is no registry or official data available to find out exact blood donation requirement in the country.
But keeping in view the need of around 1.5 million blood bottles every year for 100,000 thalassaemia patients in the country, as well as the requirement of patients with bleeding disorders, leukaemia, blood cancer, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), aplastic anaemia, liver cirrhosis or liver failure and mothers at the time of delivery, it can be calculated that at least three million blood components are required every year in the country.
While a couple of Islamic countries were near a 100 per cent voluntary blood donation milestone, Pakistan is not in a position to fulfil even 50 per cent of the total requirement.
Dr Ansari recalls that during a visit to a public-sector university in Sindh a couple of years back, a paediatric consultant was informed that a three-year-old girl was severely anaemic due to malnutrition. “And a more painful part of the story is that she expired just due to non-availability of blood,” he says, asking people to volunteer themselves and motivate others to donate blood that will in no way go waste.