Adults ‘reluctant to donate’ blood
Since its establishment in June 1984, the Lesotho Blood Transfusion Service (LBTS) continues to play a crucial role in the country’s healthcare delivery system. A department in the Ministry of Health, the LBTS’S mandate is to provide safe blood to all hospitals in Lesotho collected from voluntary nonremunerated donors. To ensure its safety, the blood is first screened for HIV, Hepatitis B and syphilis, before it is passed to hospitals.
LBTS Manager, Ms Maleqhoa Nyopa, speaks with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Limpho Sello about the department.
LT: Could you please tell us the background of the Lesotho Blood Transfusion Service?
Nyopa: Before the establishment of the LBTS in 1984, district hospitals used to collect blood from voluntary donors but the Ministry of Health soon realised that there were many processes involved for the safety of the blood. These processes involved screening for various diseases. You will also realise that soon after the establishment of the LBTS, Lesotho recorded its first case of HIV in 1986 so a year later, in 1987, hospitals stopped collecting blood and all the work was now being done by the LBTS and the blood bank was only in Maseru. now we also have them in Leribe and Mohale’s Hoek.
LT: The advent of HIV should have made the LBTS’ job that much harder….
Nyopa: Absolutely. Before the spread of HIV and AIDS, the LBTS used to collect blood everywhere and the country never experienced any blood shortage. We would go to schools, prisons, factories and the streets. But in 1996 after HIV infections started to increase, we had to come up with new strategies of getting safe blood. i must mention that the high HIV prevalence led to a drop in blood donations and an increase in demand from anaemic patients especially those with AIDS.
LT: You have touched on some of the challenges you face as LBTS. But could you also share with us the notable achievements you have scored as a department?
Nyopa: We have achieved a lot despite the many challenges we face. For instance, in 2010, we received assistance from the Millennium challenge Account (MCA) in the form of two vehicles because we did not have cars at the time. And with the new cars branded LBTS, we could now easily move from one place to the other and our blood collections increased.
The collections had dropped between 1996 and 2009 and we would only collect 3000 blood units each year. But after the donation of the vehicle, by the end of 2010, we had collected 3996 units. Again with the help of PEPFAR (United States President’s emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) we increased the number of our staff, and got three more vehicles which helped reach out to communities as we sought more blood donations. in addition, we opened offices in Leribe and Mohale’s Hoek, and this enhanced our operations even further.
However, our biggest challenge is the community, especially adults who are very reluctant to donate blood with most of them claiming that they are ill. i must tell you that 60 percent of our blood is from students, while the adults turn their backs on us. We try to sensitize them on the importance of blood transfusion but they choose not to heed our call.
But despite this negativity, we still try to make them aware of the importance of their participation through radios and television. We also give out such information in written form but they decide not to read because the next day, you would find the documents littered all over and you start wondering if they had bothered to read just two lines.
The bottom line is people still lack understanding about blood donation. They only value it when they are in trouble or one of their loved ones is in desperate need of blood, but we need not wait for such times.
LT: Why is the LBTS almost always short of blood during holidays? Why can’t you prepare for the high demand which always comes with such periods?
Nyopa: Last year, we collected 8000 units but the country needs 10 000 blood units annually. At the moment i can’t say off-hand exactly how much we have in the blood bank. But during holidays, there is high demand for blood because of the many accidents and assaults that take place during this period. in addition, we also have patients such as mothers in delivery and those with anaemia (anaemia is a decrease in the amount of red blood cells or haemoglobin in the blood), so because of the problems regarding donors and the high demand for blood i have mentioned, we will most likely face serious challenges at such times.
LT: If people are reluctant to give out their blood, have you ever considered offering incentives for them to donate?
Nyopa: The problem of exchanging blood with money can be a big one because even sick people would want to trade their blood as well as body parts. We would be in trouble of getting infected blood and we don’t want that since we have to collect safe blood. Again, by buying the blood, we would incur additional expenses which would then require us to sell the precious liquid.
And the person who is going to suffer the most is the patient in desperate need of the blood. The other thing is that blood is priceless, blood is life and for one to give it, you must do so through your good heart without expecting anything in return. You give it to assist someone in need and not for financial gain.
LT: Who qualifies to be a donor?
Nyopa: First and foremost, one must be healthy to qualify as a blood donor. One must also be between the ages of 16 and 60 years with a weight of 50 kilogrammes and above.
LT: What is your message to the public?
Nyopa: We are in the festive season and we know the public is going to engage in all sorts of activity that will end up putting them in danger. However, i would want to appeal to them to look after themselves by avoiding drinking alcoholic beverages and driving and being in unnecessary conflicts which might result in serious injuries. To those who would want to donate blood, i also urge them to come forward because it’s all our responsibility to save lives.
LBTS Manager Ms Maleqhoa Nyopa.