Sometime back, a colleague posted on one of the social networks, how he had responded quickly to a plea by Francis Kitonsa’s family that was in dire need of blood at IHK to save his life.
In his own words, Simon Musaasizi, a journalist, posted thus; “Face book has made me save a life. Francis Kitonsa’s family posted on Facebook that he is in IHK intensive care unit in urgent need of blood. Kitonsa just like me, belongs to a rare blood group called O negative.
That in 100 people, you find ...only two or three people of this group. That perhaps is why i was given special attention by Dr. Annet at the Uganda Blood Bank. She abandoned whatever she was doing when she heard that I am O negative.
In fact, she said I should guard myself jealously. My blood was written on Francis and taken straight to the lab. Francis has so far received eight units of blood, but needs more. That the blood bank has exhaustively called all O negative people around Kampala and now making calls upcountry. If you belong to this blood group, kindly go save Kitonsa’s life.”
The distressed family had no alternative but to appeal to well-wishers on social media to come to their rescue. Most unfortunately, Kitonsa died days later.
This is one of a number of cases of the patients that die as a result of blood shortage in the country, which has remained a challenge because of various reasons.
So just how much blood is adequate to meet the country’s demand? According to Ms Dorothy Kyeyune, the director of Nakasero Blood Bank, the major facility, which operates through seven regional blood banks, the question regarding how much blood is needed cannot be answered by the blood agency since hospitals have failed to quantify what they need.
“If you ask them how much blood they need, they will not tell you. We however estimate that what is required depends on how much blood they have used. We can then budget accordingly. We also estimate according to the previous usage,” Kyeyune says.
While the question of how much blood health centres need remains debatable, she explains that blood unlike other products, is fragile by nature, and cannot be stored for a long time since it expires in 35 days. With such a short shelf life, the agency cannot stock much of it as it may expire.
“That’s why we cannot overstock it… And why we have to keep collecting and issuing it out. If we collect so much, it will expire and this is a big dilemma for us.
And remember no factories manufacture blood so it is up to us to ask Ugandans to donate voluntarily. Also, it is given to us free of charge so the donors do it reluctantly,” she says.
Shortages during holidays
The blood shortage is experienced more during vacation, according to Dr Steven Aisu, the director and head of Central Public Health Laboratories, since they get more of it largely from students.
The reason students are their largest donor group, is because their age group tend to have low percentages of positivity for HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Syphilis. Such blood from infected people is not used.
“During those long vacations is when we get a big shortage. That is when we resort to open gatherings to pick blood although about 20 per cent of it is disposed of,” says Dr Aisu.
The blood bank collects about 220,000 units of blood a year although about 250,000 units are needed annually.
According to World Health Organisation standards, however, the country needs at least 300,000 units of safe blood annually to meet the minimum requirement. Also, about 1,200,000 testing kits are needed per year.
A kit is used to test blood to determine its group and for transfusion of transmissible infections, including HIV, Syphilis and Hepatitis B and C.