World Blood Donor Day: How myths, misconceptions discourage Nigerians from donating blood




Blood donation is an integral part of any nation’s health care system as blood transfusion is often required for sick patients and women in labour. However, many Nigerians are yet to imbibe the culture of blood donation as a result of the myths and misconceptions. PAUL OKAH reports.

When was the last time you donated blood? A question of this nature always attracts negative responses as Nigerians are yet to imbibe the culture of voluntary blood donations, despite the inherent benefits. Since 2013, the United Nations earmarked June 14 every year for the celebration of World Donor Day with the theme for 2022 being “donating blood is an act of solidarity. Join the effort and save lives.”

According to a study conducted by the American Journal of Epidemiology, giving blood may lower risk of suffering a heart attack, while donating blood at least once a year could reduce risk of a heart attack by 88 per cent, with the criteria for donors being 18 to 65 years male or female with 350mls to 450mls of blood.

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Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, a civil servant in Wuse, FCT, Mr. Joseph Ogbonna, said the last time he donated blood was in 2015, during the birth of his first child, saying though it is a necessary cause, he is yet to make a habit of it as a result of many factors.

He said: “The good thing about blood donation is that you are helping to save the lives of people, some of whom you don’t know. I know of many people who make the habit of donating blood to hospitals. They get a kick out of doing it. However, others look at the commercial part of it as many get paid for donating blood. When you get to the hospital and require blood transfusion, you must pay for it. Personally, I have not gotten around to donating blood as a habit.

“The last time I donated blood was in 2015, during the birth of my first child. It was through CS, so there was a need for blood transfusion for my wife. Discouragingly, I still had to pay for the same blood I donated, which made no sense at all. It was evident that the hospital was out to make money, hence charging for what was given freely. Though I have never discouraged people from donating blood, the hospitals should not demand money for blood that was donated freely. It discourages people.”

On her part, a student, Anita Bassey, said she once donated blood to save an accident victim and encouraged Nigerians to make a habit of it, no matter the misconception and biases.

She said: “One of the greatest things in life I did was to donate blood to save an accident victim last year in Niger state. He was a stranger I didn’t even know. Nigerians should form the habit of donating blood to save lives, not just their relatives. I was happy to see people donating blood to save lives of victims of the Owo attack in Ondo state in the last two weeks. It is a noble thing to do. Being a medical student, I know a lot of the advantages of blood donation.

“Discouragingly, ignorance has been forcing a lot of people not to donate or even accept blood transfusion. Do you know that in this 21st century, some religious groups have it as a doctrine not to give or accept blood? Jehovah’s Witnesses are a perfect example. One of my neighbours lost his child in 2017 as a result of such a doctrine, which is very pathetic. The argument was that the blood of an armed robber or ailing person may be introduced to their family. Therefore, it is better to allow the patient to die than to accept blood transfusion.

“However, blood donation is an obligation. People should visit any blood donor centre to donate blood to those in need. You can never tell when it will be your turn in need of blood. I am always happy donating blood for others to live. It is a charitable work worthy of emulation. Giving life is paramount because when we need it, blood is very important.”

Benefits of blood donation

On Tuesday, in his keynote address at a programme to mark the Lagos University Teaching Hospital 2022 World Blood Donor Day, a consultant haematologist and blood transfusionist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) Idi-Araba, Prof Vincent Osunkalu, said blood donation can reveal potential health problems as, while blood donation was not the same thing as a trip to the doctor, it could be another way to keep an eye on your cardio-vascular health.

He said the donor would receive a mini-physical examination prior to the blood draw, during which the pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, hemoglobin and more would be checked.

Osunkalu said giving blood could also help someone’s mental state as, while there are several physical benefits to donating blood, the most powerful health benefit is arguably in the psychological realm, adding that donating blood meant helping someone or some people somewhere in need of blood desperately.

He said: “This can sometimes shed light on issues you didn’t even know about before it becomes life-threatening. Giving blood can reduce harmful iron stores. One in every 200 people in the U.S. is affected by a condition called haemochromatosis, which most of them don’t even know about.

“Haemochromatosis is a disease that causes an iron overload and is labelled as the most common genetic disease among Caucasians. Giving blood may reduce your risk of developing cancer. Phlebotomy (the process of drawing blood) was found to be an iron-reduction method that is associated with lower cancer risk and mortality.

“Volunteering has been shown to have positive effects on happiness. In people over 65 years old, volunteering also reduces the risk of depression and loneliness. Some researchers have opined that the psychological health benefit you receive from knowing you are helping others is just as helpful as the physical health benefit.

“Blood donation benefits everyone, the health benefits of donating blood are considerable – but of course, and the most important part of the process is helping to save lives. Donating blood is good for you, and it’s even better for all the people who desperately need the help.”

Osunkalu said this class of people was prone to indulging in certain risky behaviors to help them meet the blood donation requirements. He said that one of the major blood donation challenges posed by commercial blood donors was blood doping.

According to him, doping is the act of manipulating your hemoglobin concentration to appear higher than normal even when you have donated more blood than you can at that time. He explained that blood doping involves the use of erythropoietin; a glycoprotein hormone that stimulates the production of red cells.

Osunkalu said this act was also popular among sportsmen and women, who are trying to boost their performance. He said this was not a good practice, as it results in the over-working of one’s blood-producing cells in the bone marrow predisposing you to many health risks.

Challenges

On June 14, at an event to commemorate this year’s World Blood Donor Day, the National Blood Service Commission (NBSC) encouraged more Nigerians not to run away from voluntary donation of blood to those in need.

The commission’s acting State Director for Enugu Centre, Mrs Irene Igweze, said that some good Nigerians had demonstrated a high level of charity by donating their blood to save non relatives who were in dire need of blood, adding that blood donation is healthy and people who engage in it will not contact disease as it is being speculated, because it is done through safe techniques.

“We take people’s history such as weight, pulse, blood pressure and check blood percentage as well as quantity. If we notice any deficiency, the person will not be allowed to donate. The pre-donation counseling helps us to determine if the donor has eaten, is sick and we mostly give them fluid to drink,” she said.

The Commission’s director noted that the lack of awareness had been a major challenge, adding that if people are aware, they would voluntarily come for blood donation, saying a large number of people are not interested in blood donation due to perceived fear and hunger.

“Another of our setbacks is funds, vehicles and machines to do the work effectively. Our blood is also more reliable due to the type of machines we use. I enjoin Nigerians to be willing to donate blood to save lives, as anybody could become a victim of an accident that would be in need of blood.”

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