Talk of blood shortages at the Malawi Blood Transfusion Service (MBTS) and the hospitals has been chronic. The big question from the media is what solutions does MBTS have to ensure availability of safe and adequate blood in the hospitals.
It would appear as if MBTS is doing nothing but the old-school way of blood collection. However, there is a need to understand the necessity of efforts to collect quality blood. MBTS has to identify blood donors, educate them so that they understand blood donation, testing, processing and distribution.
Blood donors ought to know why MBTS cannot visit certain areas and why other people cannot donate blood.
There are a number of infections which can be contracted through blood transfusion: hepatitis B and C (HBV and HCV), HIV, malaria and syphilis.
When MBTS has collected the blood, it tests it for these infections to ensure that only blood that tests negative for such infections is supplied to the hospitals.
One of the tasks of MBTS is to identify areas and institutions that have low risks in respect of these infections. We cannot risk going into areas where there is a number of activities that encourage contraction of such infections.
Even when low-risk populations have been identified, MBTS still shoulders the responsibility to explain the dos and don’ts of blood donation, the blood donation process, the testing for infections, blood grouping (identification of blood types of the collected blood) and the distribution to various hospitals.
People are initially told the criteria for one to qualify for blood donation. This is done to facilitate the process of people making informed decisions before they donate blood.
All issues stated above have been done in colleges and secondary schools, places of work and worship. Having been in institutions, MBTS management thought of two strategic issues. One of the issues is to partner the media to advocate for blood donation, associations and clubs that have significant following and, non-government organisations with established grass-root structures. Further on its own efforts, MBTS is engaging various traditional leaders to champion blood donation in villages.
A case in point here is the story of various traditional leaders.
In Thyolo, traditional authorities (T/As) Bvumbwe, Mchilamwera, Chimaliro and Thomas are championing blood donation to the point that village blood collection has substituted visits to companies. That is not to say companies and organisations are not important but rather people have embraced blood donation as their issue to resolve.
Also praiseworthy are Inkosi ya Makosi Mbelwa and Kampingo Sibande in Mzimba; T/As Kalonga and Khombedza in Salima; Nsamala in Balaka and Champiti in Ntcheu.
T/As Nsomba and Lundu in Blantyre, Chief Maseya and Ngabu as well as Paramount Chief Lundu in Chikwawa and T/A Mlolo in Nsanje are also working to ensure their people understand blood donation.
The future of blood donation in Malawi resides in the villages and townships.
Once the concept of voluntary blood donation is well explained, the word of mouth goes out like bush fire. It becomes easier for area development committee members to explain to the masses.
MBTS and district health offices explain the technical issues surrounding blood donation and transfusion.
According to a 2016 study by MBTS, the country requires around 120 000 units of whole blood annually.
But in the just ended financial and operating year, MBTS collected 60 000 units.
Since MBTS began progress has been made, but real achievement is required in fulfilment of supplying what Malawi hospitals really need in terms of blood. This can only be done if other traditional leaders embrace the championing of voluntary blood donation in various parts of the country.
MBTS will always be available to collect blood when a call is made to educate people.
Let us champion blood donation in rural communities. n