Blood is life, but the sight of this fluid sends shivers down most people’s spines. As such, donating blood becomes a hard decision to make especially to rural communities.
Take Ntchisi, for example. the district hospital’s blood bank often goes dry because people do not seem to be willing to donate blood.
But Jesse Mwansambo, 42, whose life was saved by a blood transfusion, urges people to donate blood because it saves lives.
“I had malaria and needed blood. My father gave me one pint, followed by my mother and brother, but still I needed some more blood. I could see myself dying. If it were not for a hospital attendant‘s mercy, I probably would have been dead by now,” said Mwansambo.
That was in 1987, and since then, she vowed to be a regular blood donor.
“I have donated blood 106 times since then and I will keep doing that as long as I am fit to donate,” she said.
Ntchisi District Hospital requires 300 pints of blood monthly, but only manages to acquire 35 pints. According to the hospital’s spokesperson Bwanaloli Mwamlima, the shortage of blood at the hospital is leading to avoidable deaths of children with severe anaemia caused by malaria and malnutrition, pregnant women and road accident victims.
He says many major operations are postponed due to shortage of blood.
“A significant number of deaths, especially in maternity and paediatric wards, could be avoided if the hospital had adequate supply of blood at all times. One in every two maternal deaths that occur at this hospital are due to blood shortages,” said Mwamlima
The hospital relies on Malawi Blood Transfusion Service (MBTS) to supplement its blood supply. It has a weekly schedule of collecting blood from MBTS every Wednesdays.
However, there are situations where the hospital has failed to get blood from MBTS after it has also run short of the fluid.
“In such situations, we ask guardians or relatives of the patient to donate the blood,” he said.
But why do people shun blood donation to the extent that the hospitals lack the fluid?
Mwansambo feels some people are not comfortable to see blood, while others think their health would be compromised if they donated.
“The problem stems from lack of information. People don’t know much about blood donation and so they associate it with myths that are not true,” says Mwansambo.
Another donor, Kennedy Malija from Vusojere in Ntchisi, says in the past, he could not donate blood because there were hardly any messages from authorities to help him appreciate the need to donate.
He said if people knew the importance of donating blood, most hospitals would have enough blood supply.
“There is no way a person can just wake up and travel to the boma just to donate blood. Messages should be developed targeting us in rural areas. We need to understand the importance of donating blood and we will do our best to help save lives,” Malija says.
Asked if he knew of Malawi Blood Transfusion Services (MBTS) as an organisation that collects blood and reserves it, Malija says no.
Mwamlima agrees that there is an information gap that is contributing to blood shortages in the country’s hospitals.
“We have not engaged the communities enough to motivate potential blood donors. There is need to motivate communities to donate blood in order to improve our blood supply in the district. We could even form blood donation committees to provide leadership, create awareness and motivate potential blood donors,” he says.
Senior Chief Malenga of Ntchisi said most people in rural areas do not know that blood could be donated willingly to hospitals and MBTS.
He said what they know is that blood is donated only when a relative is sick, adding “most blood donation campaigns and messages target urban areas or trading centres, leaving rural communities ignorant of the importance of blood donation.”
Executive director of MBTS, Natasha Msamala, says in the next three months, the organisation will be conducting research on why people shun donating blood.