Patients at risk as blood bank runs dry

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Pascalinah Kabi

LESOTHO is facing an acute blood shortage which has resulted in relatives of hospital patients being left with no option but to donate the precious fluid to save their loved ones’ lives.

According to Lesotho Blood Transfusion Services (LBTS) Manager, ‘Maleqhoa Nyopa, the shortage had been exacerbated by the temporary suspension of the school blood donation programme following an outcry from parents that their permission was not being sought when health services were being carried out on their children.

The Ministry of Education and Training had since put the school blood donation programme on hold following the outcry. She said officials from the Ministry of Health were currently negotiating with their Education and Training counterparts to map out the modalities of school blood donation regulations.

Ms Nyopa said the blood crisis was so acute, it had reached historical proportions, adding that they were unable to supply health centres with the life-giving fluid.

“We are experiencing a challenge of historical proportions since we are failing to supply hospitals with blood. This is because there are very few people who are making the donations,” she said.

“This year, we encountered a lot of problems while collecting blood from schoolchildren. We usually never run out of blood at this time of the year due to the school blood donation programme which is normally carried-out around the country.

“However, this year we were instructed to temporarily stop the programme to allow the ministry to come up with clear guidelines on how parents can be informed and to get their consent whenever health services are administered in schools.

“We are currently negotiating with the Ministry of Education and Training on how best we can resolve this issue so that students can continue donating blood to save lives.”

Without the school blood donation programme, Ms Nyopa said, LBTS had to rely on individual donations. However, she said very few people had been forthcoming.

She said every healthy person aged between 16 and 60 had a responsibility to donate blood.

“No one is forced to donate blood and it is done voluntarily. It is a gift that brings life since we have situations where a person’s life depends on a blood donation,” said Ms Nyopa.

“Unfortunately, some people think it is the job of the Ministry of Health alone to ensure there is sufficient blood in the country.

“Actually it is not. It is the responsibility of every Mosotho to donate blood while the Ministry of Health’s role is to facilitate blood donations and testing them to ensure only healthy blood is given to patients.”

She said the majority of people donating blood were doing so to assist their sick relatives.

“Most of the blood donations come from people whose loved ones would be in dire need of the fluid. However, we don’t encourage people to donate blood merely for the sake of assisting their relatives,” Ms Nyopa said.

“In most cases, people who are forced to donate blood for their relatives lie about their health status because of a desire to save their loved ones. Unfortunately, their blood won’t be usable because of their medical conditions.”

She also said donating blood merely to save a loved one’s life was foolhardy since it would take a long time to process and test the fluid.

“Extracting the blood alone takes 45 minutes. It is then taken to a laboratory for testing and grouping,” said Ms Nyopa.

“We only test at least 10 cartons of blood at a time, and even if someone has donated for their loved one, we can’t carry out the tests unless we have a minimum of 10 packs. It is pointless to donate blood under pressure because the process is long and families can lose their loved one unnecessarily.”

She added that prospective donors can give blood at the LBTS headquarters in Botshabelo and Queen Elizabeth II hospital in Maseru. In Mohale’s Hoek they can visit the facility behind the main police station while in Leribe they can go to Motebang Hospital.

Commenting on the issue, Education and Training Minister Mahali Phamotse said negotiations to come up with a school blood donation guidelines were ongoing.

“We don’t have any problems with students donating blood at schools, but there is a need to iron out the logistical framework to ensure the programme is run smoothly,” Dr Phamotse said, adding that the negotiations were also dealing with regulations for other health services offered at schools.

“I am not part of the negotiations, but I have been informed that they are ongoing between the Health and Education ministries’ principal secretaries. Once the negotiations are completed, the programme will resume with all parties knowing their mandate and boundaries.”

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