World Thalassemia Day: Is Pakistan not charitable enough?

Published: May 8, 2014
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Donating blood frequently will reduce the risk of heart attacks and cancer. Each blood donation may help as many as three people. PHOTO: REUTERS

Donating blood frequently will reduce the risk of heart attacks and cancer. Each blood donation may help as many as three people. PHOTO: REUTERS Donating blood frequently will reduce the risk of heart attacks and cancer. Each blood donation may help as many as three people. PHOTO: REUTERS

My dear homeland not only lingers behind in valuable energy resources but also lacks in philanthropy and benevolence. Very few people endeavour to promote human welfare and even fewer perform charitable tasks in our society. We hardly desire or care about doing something to help the less fortunate.

A spider bite may not be able to transform you into a superhero but a tiny needle prick and a little bit of your time definitely can. Yes, you can become a super hero and for that, all you have to do is donate blood.

All of us know that giving blood provides an essential lifeline to those in need but research shows that it could have health benefits for you, the donor, too. For those who are weight conscious, it is said that people can burn up to 650 calories with every pint donated. And the benefits do not end here; after the blood is donated, it is screened for certain infections. You can choose to be informed if any abnormality is found in those screening tests and regular blood donations help keep the levels of iron in the body in check, especially in males.

Donating blood frequently also reduces the risk of heart attacks and cancer. Each blood donation may help as many as three people. And one in every three people usually need blood during their lifetime but only one in 30 people donate it. Many thalassemia patients die because people are hesitant donating this liquid gold.

But now, thankfully, a couple of NGOs and civil society members are putting in immense efforts to help poor people cope up with their impotency.

One such NGO, named Jehaad for Zero Thalassemia (JZT), is working to eradicate the genetic disorder called thalassemia, from this country. JZT’s mission is to promote the cause of thalassemic patients. This organisation focuses on the significance of a simple thalassemia test before matrimony. It believes that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Any couple who decides to get married should undergo a simple thalassemia test. Being a thalassemia minor is not a disease; it’s perfectly normal. But the problem begins when a thalassemia minor marries another thalassemia minor. There are 25% chances that the child born will be a thalassemia major, which is not right. A thalassemia major child feeds on blood. The torment and pain of this fatal disease can only be felt by those who are already suffering. So, you have to decide what’s better – a simple test or a lifetime of pain?

A founding member of JZT has come up with another initiative, called ‘Each One, Ease One’. The title pretty much unveils its meaning. According to the program, social entrepreneurs are asked to adopt at least one thalassemic child and cater for their medical, social and financial needs; be it the cost of their medicines or monthly expenses of education, the social entrepreneur willingly takes care of everything. Volunteers who have taken the first step to join this social-celebrity set up are in the pioneer batch and, luckily, I am one of them.

These volunteers have signed a pledge to be a reason of positive change for our beloved country. Anybody who thinks that he/she possesses the potential of doing such a kind act can be a part of this social-celebrity setup.

While spreading awareness about the cause, volunteers at JZT receive mixed responses. Some people show great concern whereas others carelessly nod their heads and make false promises of helping in near future. People who are kind at heart realise that their action of donating blood can help save a life, so they do not step back from saving a precious life.

The volunteers at JZT have collectively composed a video to inspire and stimulate people towards their cause, which is labelled as ‘Thalassemia Free Pakistan’.

I believe people who deny donating blood are actually unaware of the real deal. While they fret over the small pinch of a needle, they miss out on the bigger picture: not only will they save a life, they will also be rewarded for this act in the hereafter.

An incident comes to mind that took place a few days back. I asked a man about his blood group and he replied that it was O negative (O-ve). Then, I told him that I work with thalassemic kids and asked if he would like to make a contribution by donating blood. He declined my request saying that he may be under weight. Politely, I let him know that we were fully equipped with a weighing scale and so we could clear that confusion in a few seconds if he agreed. The frown on his forehead revealed that he was uninterested but I tried convincing him nonetheless. After much deliberation, he finally agreed. Ecstatic, I thanked him and took back with me a valuable lesson; people if encouraged, and made aware of what this disease is about, are willing to help. They just need a slight nudge in the right direction.

JZT is running an awareness campaign and volunteers of this society believe that the only way to let everyone get familiar with this deadly disease is to stand up and make our voices heard. I, on behalf of my entire team, request the government to come up with some strict and stringent legislation to avoid any increase in this disease. The day is not far away when we will call Pakistan a ‘thalassemia free country’ but this will only be possible if we make an effort collectively. As I always say,

“Get tested, before it tests you”.

Shumaila Jamshed

Shumaila Jamshed

Currently doing her Bachelors in Business Administration, she is a social activist and works for the less fortunate members of the society.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.