What you need to know about blood donation

Are you the kind who turns a deaf ear when it comes to blood donation drives? The kind who barely takes blood donation as a matter of concern? Well, think twice because it might be someone else in need of this precious resource today, but it could be you tomorrow.

June 14 was World Blood Donor Day and celebrations were held under the theme, “Give blood. Give now. Give often.” The day recognises blood donors who endeavor to save lives and also serves the purpose of creating awareness on the relevance of blood donation.

Blood donation is not only vital to the recipient’s health, but to the donor’s too.

Prior to blood donation, for instance, a free blood analysis for diseases like HIV and hepatitis is done.

Dr Swaibu Gatare, the division manager of the National Centre for Blood Transfusion at the Rwanda Biomedical Centre, explains that blood donation is accompanied with a lot of benefits but the most important of all is the fact that it saves someone’s life.

He says blood donation comes along with numerous benefits. For example, when someone donates blood regularly, it has been proven to prevent certain illnesses.

“Blood donation prevents myocardial infarction, hypertension and heart attacks. People get heart attacks because they are having a lot of lipids in their blood circulation which get to block the coronary arteries (the ones that supply blood to the heart). These lipids, especially the low density lipids commonly known as cholesterol, are dangerous. So, blood donation has been proven to lower the levels of cholesterol in someone’s blood stream,” Gatare explains.

Also, when one donates blood regularly, their hemoglobin levels are controlled, he says. Hemoglobin is a red protein responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood.

Gatare explains that when hemoglobin is a lot, blood becomes thick which is bad because it doesn’t flow freely with in the vessels and it can lead to clots in the brain or gastrocnemius.

According to research done by Medical Daily, blood donation reduces the risk of cancer. The reduction of iron stores and iron in the body while giving blood can reduce the risk of cancer. Iron has been thought of to increase free-radical damage in the body and has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and aging.

It also indicates that blood donation preserves cardiovascular health. Blood viscosity is known to be a unifying factor for the risk of cardiovascular disease, how thick and sticky your blood is and how much friction your blood creates through the blood vessels can determine how much damage is done to the cells lining one’s arteries.

“One can reduce their blood viscosity by donating blood on a regular basis, which eliminates the iron that may possibly oxidise in their blood. An increase in oxidative stress can be damaging to one’s cardiovascular system,” it states.

Who is eligible for blood donation?

Lt Col Dr Fabien Ntaganda, a hemato-pathologist at Rwanda Military Hospital, says blood donation is a lifesaving procedure that each and everyone should do in their life time as long as they don’t have any contraindication.

Those who suffer from chronic ailments like cancer and leukemia, among others, cannot donate blood. If one has the HIV virus, hepatitis and malaria, they also cannot be donors, he says.

Gatare says one has to weigh at least 50kg and above to be eligible for blood donation.

“Also, they must be in a position to consent, meaning for one to donate blood they have to be above the age of 18 but not beyond 60. Women can’t donate when they are in their periods. They have to wait for at least seven days after the periods,” he says.

Gatare adds that when one is on certain medications like aspirin, they can’t donate blood. A pregnant woman too isn’t eligible; she can only donate 12 months after giving birth, he says.

Gatare says that the donor must be willing to undergo a medical checkup. This is done for the safety of the recipient’s health and also the donor because they have to ensure that the donor too has enough blood.

Ntaganda also emphasises that safety in terms of blood donation is something taken seriously. “We don’t want to take that blood and then contaminate others. We have to make sure that with the evolving technology the blood you are donating is 100 per cent, and that’s why we screen the donor.”

Types of donation

There are four types of blood donation and they are categorised depending on who is making the donation and, at times, why they are making the donation.

Dr Wilbur Bushara of Herna Medical Centre says one of the types of blood donation is voluntary non-remunerated blood donation. In this type of donation, the blood donor turns up out of their wish to donate blood without any material gain in return.

He says the other type is commercial, where one donates blood for a monetary reward.

“The other one is replacement, this has two aspects. One is the family replacement whereby a family member donates blood to save a patient’s life and there is also a replacement whereby a friend or a person of good will donates blood.”

The fourth type of donation is called autologous, says Bushara. “This is where one donates blood to be used by him or herself. This can happen when one is going to undergo surgery and the blood is stored for use after the surgery.”

How often can one donate?

Gatare says that when one is going to donate, there are two ways it can be done. The first is where one donates whole blood that’s inclusive of all the components that is red cells, plasma, platelets and other nutrients from the body. With this a person can donate every two months but they are not supposed to go beyond four times a year, he explains.

The other way of donation is where someone donates the only component needed, whether it is red cells or plasma or platelets.

“With this method, if one is donating platelets, they can donate every 15 days up to 24 times in a year. If they are donating plasma, they can donate every 48 hours,” he says.

Current state of blood donation in Rwanda

There has been an upward trend in terms of units of blood collected which has improved the availability of blood for hospitals.

Figures obtained from Rwanda Biomedical Centre indicate that 40,520 units of blood were collected in 2012; 43,074 units in 2013; 48,932 units in 2014; 53438 units in 2015; and 61,306 units in 2016.

There has been a 15 per cent increase in the demand for blood components every year for the past three years. Blood components supplied in 2015 were 65,825 while in 2016 they were 70,835.

The number of blood donors totals to 44,396 males and only 16,910 females.

Blood units targeted for this year are 91,000, a 48.5 per cent increase compared to 2016, according to RBC.