“Please help, I need some blood”

Published: June 7, 2011
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Research shows that volunteer blood donations are the safest of all.

Have you ever had to look for blood? It is not a pleasant experience. Every day, in my clinical practice, I see patients and their families looking for blood. From heart surgery to C-Section, when patients are about to undergo a surgical procedure, their friends and family go through the painful exercise of finding blood that might be needed. And, these of course are the people who plan ahead.

For some reason, patients are completely unprepared. When a loved one is in a car accident, there has been no time to arrange for blood beforehand. Or, for that matter when a bomb goes off survivors rally together to get the wounded to the nearest hospital. Relatives and friends show up at the hospital dazed and confused, and the first thing they are asked to do is to “arrange blood.”

What follows, even under the best circumstances, is an ordeal. With life hanging in the balance, the patient’s family starts calling everyone they know, looking for someone, anyone, who is A-Positive or O-Negative. And even when they do find someone with the right blood group, there are questions that remain: is the person who available to give blood, willing to give blood, and more importantly, is that person’s blood safe?

The problem with such donations isn’t just the last minute lack of availability. It is also the fact that a blood donor who happens to be relative or a friend of the patient is highly unlikely to disclose his complete medical history in such a high pressure situation. And, since the blood is from a ‘known’ source, the mandatory testing is often ignored. Most blood donations in our country are such last minute directed donations.

The question here is this:

If everyone has blood, and if the need for blood is constant, why do we wait until the very last moment to go looking for it?

There are a few excellent blood transfusion services in Pakistan. These blood banks collect blood from volunteers even when there isn’t an emergency situation. The donors give blood knowing their blood will be given to someone who needs it. The blood is tested for infections such as HIV and Hepatitis, and stored safely for up to six weeks. Whenever a patient is in need of blood, it is issued, and the stock is replenished from more volunteer donors.

Research shows that volunteer blood donations are the safest of all. Such blood is given by choice, it has been tested for infectious agents and it is stored properly. Unfortunately, such donations make a very small percentage of the total blood donated in our country.

The problem is one of awareness and trust.

• People don’t know how long blood can be stored safely.

• People don’t know that one blood bag can easily help three different patients.

• People don’t know others who will honour their trust and not misuse the blood that has been donated.

These are the challenges that will have to be faced as we gradually transform the blood supply in our country from event-based directed donations to volunteer donations.

Omar Chughtai

Omar Chughtai

An avid reader of blogs who works as Lab Director at Chughtais Lahore Lab. Omar tweets @OmarChughtai.

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

  • Jibran

    I can’t agree more with you. As a regular blood donor, my heart bleeds for those who have to undergo the agony of “arranging” blood. Most healthy and active friends and relatives of my age (I am 27) either say they have ‘never donated blood’ (a.k.a. sorry i wont give blood) or they simply make lame excuses. At the bottom of it all is a simple fact, they are scared!

    Our medical practitioners and medical experts along with major blood donation centers need to develop a holistic awareness campaign to educate the masses about the benefits of blood donation and that it is not only a human and ethical thing to do but it is recommended by our religion!

    May we all be blessed with the correct knowledge and the ability to act upon it. Ameen!Recommend

  • shaista ajmal

    I’ve seen a lot of emergency cases in my time and one constant has been that the families of the victims insist that ‘ hamay musalmaan ka hi khoon dena,hamay kaafir ka khoon mat laga dena” .This sick mentality is not just present in our villages but in our big cities also and doesn’t seem to be reducing but only increasing.

    even when they need blood in an emergency i’ve seen people refusing blood of non-muslims as they hate non-muslims so much.

    The islamic fascists should realise that blood is blood it doesn’t matter if it comes from abdullah,ashok or andy.Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    Excellent piece. It has to be an act of common decency in such scenarios to donate blood, When its of the scarce type like -O and -A. Besides its saves lives for once and keep the donator healthy as well. Recommend

  • http://emmefemme.wordpress.com/ Emme

    And here we have the first person to bring religion into the topic.Sick.

    I am willing to give blood; i just don’t know where to go.It was so easy to go to the Canadian Blood services…

    Here’s a little fact for you guys who’re scared to give blood: DON’T worry, it’ll come back :) Excellent excuse to eat a cookie after giving blood!! ITS IN YOU TO GIVE!!!Recommend

  • pervez

    @shaista ajmal:

    this is nothing new or unusual for us,we like to live in our delusion that we are better and more pure than others only because we were born muslims!! i’ve heard too many well educated muslims believe in delusions like these where they think that non-muslims are automatically inferior or dirtier than muslims only because they say bhagwan or god instead of Allah.

    this is the same sick mindset that has led to the spread of islamic fascism in our country where we kill people only because they don’t belive in our religion.we need to have a secular pakistan if we are to save it.Recommend

  • bilal akhtar

    @Emme:

    stop living in denial,the sick mindset described by shaista is too widespread in our country,since people like you can’t face upto your religious bigotry you have to react badly to anyone who tries to show religious extremists the mirror.Recommend

  • Karim Javed

    Hey man i have suffered from this trouble thanks to my friends they help me at the right time. There are many blood banks who asks blood donation from you and in return promises to help you in tough times they will also make your registration cards and etc but when you will need blood they don’t know who you are. From now i don’t believe in donating blood to any foundation. Only real person who directly asks you for blood has right for your blood. And if you are thinking that i was saying that they are not giving me in return of my donation that’s wrong your donation will never reach to a needy or poor person.Recommend

  • sars

    very true.I am a physician who has offered thrice to donate blood .I usually get the answer amounting to “well if we cant fine ANY one better well call you.”Recommend

  • Dr. A.S. Chughtai

    Very good effort on part of the author on a subject that causes alarm and panic every other minute some place in our country. The medical community and the media have a responsibility to generate awareness among masses on this subject. One very important aspect is education of the physicians on the basic principles of blood transfusion. As much as blood is such a precious commodity, most of the time it is not used judiciously. In majority of the situations, a patient may not need whole blood and only a component thereof may meet the need of the patient thereby saving the remaining components in that unit which can be used for other patients. Therefore, physicians need to be educated on the concept of ‘Blood Component Therapy’. There are medical centers, hospitals and labs across the country that have state of the art blood banking facilities. However, their number is very small. These centers need to be encouraged to not only expand their facilities but also to initiate programs of continued medical education on blood transfusion.Recommend

  • Ramo Rd

    Great effort in awareness of blood-related issues Dr. Omar Chughtai!

    My name is Ramo and my dad is a big name in pathology. Everything I am is because of him. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t even have made it to medical college (self-finance + connections). And then, when I tried for a residency in the US I was such a failure, but thanks to my dad I got one. And now that my father has set-up a business and left it to me, I can finally be myself. So for the little time that I actually sit at my desk, I write blog posts for Tribune, and check out the insights for my fan page on Facebook. Yes, I set up my own fan page and I am not even a star. I spend more than $50 a week trying to buy fans on Facebook and it keeps me so busy that I hardly find any time to see any patients, unless they’re my dad’s friends’ references. I know that sounds selfish but thank goodness my dad is able to see beyond that and notice that I am actually trying to not only raise awareness with my blog posts but also promote our business subconsciously.

    I wish I could be more like you. You are actually concerned about these issues and not writing here because you’re jobless. I’m inspired.Recommend