Thursday

National blood bank runs dry

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.

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