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National blood bank runs dry

October 31, 2013

By Bukola Adebayo
BUKOLA ADEBAYO’s trip to the National Blood Transmission Service, Abeokuta, Ogun State reveals that the centre has nothing to offer patients

Blood is a major life-saving fluid. It is so essential in a hospital environment that major surgeries cannot be performed if blood is not on standby in the theatre. No wonder, wise people say blood is life.

However, blood banks in Nigerian hospitals are constantly dry. Many accident victims, women in labour and patients who need surgeries have died in many parts of the country because they could not get blood.

It is not unusual to see relatives of patients in emergencies, running helter skelter to get blood. Shortage of this life-saving fluid is a recurrent problem in the delivery of medical care. The matter is even worse when the national blood bank, which is supposed to be the blood reservoir, also does not have this ‘golden water’.

But this was the situation when our correspondent visited the National Blood Transfusion Service in  Iberekodo, Abeokuta in Ogun State on Monday.

After several attempts to get motorists to take her to the centre failed, a commercial cyclist eventually offered her some free advice.“You will pay double the price o. Ona Eleje (bloodcentre) it is far and it is in a bush. We (cyclists) do not like going there.”

He was not exaggerating. Not only is the road leading to the centre not motorable. The Federal Government, in its wisdom, deemed it fit to site the centre, whose service is crucial to saving lives,  on the outskirts of the town. But the most confounding aspect of the story is that the blood bank itself has no blood to offer patients.

A physician’s ordeal

An Abeokuta-based medical doctor, Sola Philips, who narrated his personal experience, said it was high time government stopped playing lip service to addressing the acute shortage of blood in its health facilities. Philips said when his nephew, who had sustained head injuries in a road accident in Kuto, was rushed to the Federal Medical Centre in Abeokuta last month, doctors  at the hospital could not do much to save his life because they did not have blood. He said, “My nephew was bleeding internally and it was supposed to be an emergency, but they could not do so because they did not have blood to perform the surgery.

The search for blood to save his nephew began. Philips said after he went to several hospitals in the city, he had to go back to the clinic where his cousin had been admitted.

He explained, “After I had gone to other general hospitals in Abeokuta, I returned to the hospital and they referred us to the National Blood Transfusion Service, saying it supplies the other hospitals in the state with blood. According to Philips, what he saw on getting to the FG-owned blood transfusion centre was an eyesore.

“The centre is located in a forest far away from the town. It was deserted except for  an old man at the gate (gateman) who told me that the centre usually does not open on Sundays or weekends. He said even if  they were opened, they did not have blood. He told me to come back the next day (Monday).

“When I got there on Monday morning, I met just one person on ground. He asked me if I had come to donate blood.  I said no, and that I was looking for blood for my sick relative. The official said they did not have blood for now. He advised me to wait till his colleagues would come back from their blood donation drive, if they got blood from donors. They could give me some for my cousin. I was shocked, how can a national blood bank not have blood?  I withdrew my nephew from the hospital and brought him to Lagos where the surgery was performed.”

Starved of fund

A source at the centre, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told our correspondent that most of the facilities at the blood bank were provided by a non-governmental organisation in the United States of America. The source said, “More than 70 per cent of the funds used to run this centre is provided by the the NGO funded by the American government, which is trying to promote voluntary blood donation in Africa. Yet, the donor is being  discouraged by the level of progress that has been made. Of all the other African countries that got the grant, it is Nigeria that is still lagging behind. Government must show more commitment if we do not want America to withdraw its funding.”

When contacted, the State Coordinator of the centre, Dr. Babatunde Adeniji,  told our correspondent that although it was established by the FG to screen and provide blood for  tertiary and secondary health facilities, it could not do so due to various challenges. Adeniji said though it has state of the art facilities to screen blood effectively, a major challenge was getting people to donate blood voluntarily to supply the hospitals. According to him, it is hard to get up to 50 people to donate blood in a month.

He said, “The demand is usually very high and we cannot meet up with it because we do not have enough blood to go round for people that need it. The situation is that we have two million demands from hospitals and laboratories for blood but we have just 200 donors.

“Nigerians do not donate blood voluntarily, it is only when they are paid that they do so, a practice that we are trying to stop. We went on a blood donation campaign to several places in Abeokuta last week. After all the talks and seminars we had, it was only  17 people that donated. It is out of these that we will supply to three tertiary hospitals and about 10 secondary health facilities

“It is always painful when you cannot get blood to save a dying patient. If you do not have it, it can lead to loss of lives. But what can we do? There is no alternative to blood. That is why people are always disappointed when they do not get it.”

Asked why a national centre that should serve hospitals in the state was located in such an environment, Adeniji quickly cut in, saying, “ We don’t know why it was sited here. I was just posted here. But the government is trying to address the challenge of the logistics in getting to this place.”

Ban commercial blood donation

Another factor, according to Adeniji, militating against the effective discharge of its duties is the activities of commercial blood donors. According to him, Nigerians would not donate voluntarily until the FG takes a national position to ban commercial blood donation in the country. Adeniji said banning such donors would also reduce the population of people that got transfused with infected blood. He warned Nigerians, saying the practice of getting blood from commercial blood donors has been linked  to increasing  cases of HIV/AIDs infection in the country.

According to a 2013 United Nations Aids report, Nigeria, with about 3.4 million people  living with HIV/Aids infection, has the second largest population of people living with the disease in the world.

“Research is still ongoing to show that another reason why the incidence of HIV may be increasing in Nigeria has to do with the blood gotten from commercial blood donors. When there is no blood in the blood banks, patients are forced to get it from anybody willing to sell. Because of this shortage, many Nigerians have been transfused with infected blood because most private laboratories get theirs from commercial blood donors whose blood is usually not good,” he noted.

To address the shortage at the national blood bank, Adeniji said the centre was collaborating with non-governmental organisations like the Rotary Club, faith based-organisations and tertiary institutions to educate people and urge them to donate blood voluntarily.

“ We don’t want to start asking those who need blood to bring their relatives to donate before we give them blood because more than 80 per cent of them will only go and pay somebody to pose as their relatives .We are in another way encouraging commercial sale of blood. We go to churches when they have their conventions to sensitise them to donate and also to puncture the various myths about blood donation. We are trying all we can but we are not there yet. We need just about one per cent of the population to donate and the blood banks will run optimally.”

Established in  December 2004,  the National Blood Transfusion Service was created  to provide a system of supplying safe and adequate quality blood and blood products to patients who may need it in any part of the country.

There are 11 operational centres across the six geopolitical zones in the country. They are in Abuja, Kaduna, Owerri, Ibadan, Lokoja, Jos, Maiduguri, Port-Harcourt, Benin City, Nangere – Potiskum, and Abeokuta.

Six additional centres in Sokoto, Katsina, Jalingo, Ekiti, Enugu and Calabar are expected to be commissioned by the end of this year.

At Nigeria’s current level of health care delivery, it is estimated that about 1.5million units of blood per annum would be required annually. However, a National Baseline Data Survey on blood transfusion indicates that only about half a million units of blood were collected from private and public sources in the previous one year with paid donors accounting for more than 90 per cent  of the blood donated.

The shortage of blood in hospitals has led to the proliferation  of illegal sources in many parts of the country.  Recently, a blood syndicate, which operated around Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, was unearthed.

Investigations by our correspondent revealed that some health workers and middle men in tertiary hospitals and some private medical laboratories in the state were recruiting secondary school students as commercial blood donors.

These school children were paid between N6,000-N10,000 to donate blood at public hospitals and maternity clinics in Lagos .

Due to monetary gains, the recruits were donating blood twice a month in spite of the danger this poses to their health.

Posted from WordPress for BlackBerry.

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