Hos­pi­tals fac­ing blood cri­sis

Doc urges J’cans to con­sider do­na­tions as birth­day gifts

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Erica Virtue/ Se­nior Gleaner Writer erica.virtue@glean­erjm.com

AMOVE to sus­pend non­elec­tive surgeries in pub­lic hos­pi­tals across the is­land has not helped much to boost the stock of blood needed to pro­vide life-sav­ing sup­port in crit­i­cal and emer­gency cases.

The Gleaner has learnt that all pub­lic hos­pi­tals are be­ing af­fected by the short­age, which has been caus­ing some doc­tors to sec­ondguess whether crim­i­nals need­ing care should be get­ting the life-sav­ing sub­stance over other pa­tients in dire need.

Last Fri­day’s shoot­ing of six po­lice­men, two fa­tally, placed the spot­light on the short­age as the Ja­maica Con­stab­u­lary Force took to so­cial me­dia, ap­peal­ing for blood donors to lend sup­port to the in­jured cops.

“We are in dire need of blood and blood sup­plies,” Kevin Allen, CEO of The Univer­sity Hospi­tal of the West Indies, told The Gleaner, de­scrib­ing the sit­u­a­tion as crit­i­cal.

Hospi­tal of­fi­cials say that while elective (non-emer­gency) surgeries are all but on hold in­def­i­nitely be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, they are still be­ing pressed pri­mar­ily be­cause of gun­shot and ac­ci­dent cases.

The Min­istry of Health and Well­ness added that if three per cent (88,000) of Ja­maicans gave a unit of blood once a year, there would be enough to meet the cur­rent de­mand. How­ever, re­li­able Gleaner sources have in­di­cated that there is less than 1,000 units cur­rently in the is­land’s stock.

The life­span of a pint of blood is 120 days while blood prod­ucts last a year, and pa­tients get blood, red cells, platelets, or plasma from do­na­tions.

“Blood re­quests are triaged. All ur­gent re­quests are sup­plied, and the re­main­der of the re­quests are usu­ally sup­plied over time. There may be a de­lay in the sup­ply and or units may be sup­plied in more than one dis­burse­ment if all re­quested units are not avail­able at once,”Dr Michelle Hamilton, head of the Na­tional Blood Trans­fu­sion Cen­tre (Blood Bank), ex­plained to The Gleaner.


Health of­fi­cials say that the short­age is partly due to Ja­maica not hav­ing a cul­ture of do­na­tions given for use as re­quired by in­di­vid­u­als un­known by or un­re­lated to them. In most cases, do­na­tions are usu­ally made by friends, rel­a­tives, or col­leagues for a named ben­e­fi­ciary. As such, hos­pi­tals, medics, and char­i­ties usu­ally try to boost stock through blood drives.

Dr Phillip Coombs and Dr Khia Dun­can are among physi­cians in the pub­lic sec­tor try­ing to raise aware­ness in the pub­lic about the im­por­tance of blood do­na­tions.

Coombs, a sur­gi­cal res­i­dent at the Kingston Pub­lic Hospi­tal, who is also known as Doc Ravers, had 97 per­sons tak­ing part in two blood drives last month at the Ki­wa­nis Blood Col­lec­tion Cen­tre at the Na­tional Chest Hospi­tal. He said he was moved to ar­range the ini­tia­tive due to the grow­ing list of per­sons un­able to have their surgeries done be­cause of the short­age.

Dun­can, a se­nior res­i­dent ear, nose, and throat sur­geon at the same in­sti­tu­tion, has also been ac­tively pro­mot­ing blood drives.

“I got in­volved through a group called Cit­i­zens Re­sponse Ja­maica, which com­prises doc­tors, sci­en­tists, en­gi­neers, busi­ness peo­ple, de­sign­ers who are try­ing to sup­port the health­care sys­tem by build­ing ven­ti­la­tors, man­u­fac­tur­ing per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment ... and de­sign­ing hospi­tal equip­ment,” she told The Gleaner yesterday.“We de­cided to have a group help with the Blood Bank do­na­tions.”

She is ask­ing Ja­maicans to find cre­ative ways of get­ting oth­ers to do­nate the life-sav­ing sub­stance by, for ex­am­ple, hav­ing blood drives as part of birth­day cel­e­bra­tions.

“Ev­ery time some of us must make a de­ci­sion on how to dis­trib­ute the pre­cious com­mod­ity when crim­i­nal el­e­ments are rushed to hospi­tal emer­gency rooms need­ing blood af­ter caus­ing law-abid­ing cit­i­zens to bleed out, but we have to re­main truth­ful to the oath,”said one doctor last week.

An­other doctor ex­pressed sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments, that the short­age at times trig­gers a dou­ble-think, but the Hip­po­cratic Oath, which re­quires medics to up­hold spe­cific eth­i­cal stan­dards, even­tu­ally tri­umphs.

“Frankly, ev­ery time I have to post­pone a surgery be­cause we do not have enough blood, I think about the oath, es­pe­cially as the crim­i­nal el­e­ments in­jured in shoot­ing are emer­gency cases and re­quire blood. It’s on the minds of a lot of my col­leagues,” said the sur­geon, who works in the pub­lic health sec­tor.


Dr Danielle Levy (left), med­i­cal of­fi­cer at the Na­tional Blood Trans­fu­sion Ser­vice, checks on blood donor Jabari Wal­lace dur­ing a blood drive or­gan­ised by Dr Phillip Coombs last month.

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