Rumours disrupt blood collection


Fury is pronounced on the faces of Mabuka villagers in Mulanje, the source of rumours that mystic people are sucking blood day and night.

The enraged citizens in this remote part of Mulanje District are ready to attack any stranger before they are attacked.

The mood is equally tense in Phalombe and Nsanje where similar stories are spreading fast.

Blood donation activities such as this one have been affcted

Since last month, angry mobs in Mulanje and Nsanje have killed six people suspected of being bloodsuckers.

Government and police officials warned against more bloodletting, saying it is all a hoax.

However, the scarlet story, bloodletting and mob justice is not just a threat to right to movement.

It threatens the lives of patients in need of blood transfusion.

Ripples of fear have forced Malawi Blood Transfusion Services (MBTS) to stop deploying its teams to Mulanje to collect the life-saving fluid from volunteers.

“Since the start of the rumours, our teams no longer go to the affected districts,” says MBTS public relations manager Allen Kaombe.

Usually, the organisation mandated by the Ministry of Health to collect blood from voluntary donors and supply it to health facilities, works hand in hand with traditional leaders and area development committees in its campaigns.

In the districts, MBTS often deploys its teams to schools where students to give blood.

“In Mulanje, we were also using open days in schools. Since the stories started circulating, we have stopped going there. We are waiting for the situation to return to normal,” he says.

According to Kaombe, the withdrawal from the troubled districts may worsen blood shortage in hospitals.

Last year, a study by MBTS showed the State-run agency only collects half of the 120 000 units of blood the healthcare sector requires a year.

The long-term effect of increasing the shortfall is that more patients are likely to die of treatable risks which could have been averted if blood collection was not disrupted by the bizarre story spreading like bushfire.

Kaombe is already counting the losses: “Mulanje is one of the districts where MBTS collects large amounts of blood in the Southern Region, the others being Thyolo and Blantyre.

“Students are always willing to donate blood. With what is happening, it means we will not collect the much-needed blood from there.”

The situation is different in Nsanje where a mob killed village head Mchanga last Sunday night on suspicion that he was aiding the alleged bloodsuckers.

Teams are still going to schools to collect blood as the police in Nsanje have intensified civic education for communities to distinguish the rampant stories from the functions of MBTS.

In Mulanje and Phalombe, the locals say the response has been slow.

Malawi Red Cross Society (MRCS), a partner of MBTS in recruiting blood donors as well as improving collection and access to safe blood, says its activities may be affected if they go unchecked.

The humanitarian organisation founded to save lives in areas devastated by wars, disasters and other emergency situations currently conducts its campaigns in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Salima and Mzimba.

Even so, MRCS communications manager Felix Washoni says the organisation has, for safety reasons, temporarily stopped its officers from going to communities where the bloodsucker’s beliefs are rife.

“We have left the matter to police and the Ministry of Health. We believe it is being handled,” he says.

As fear and rage disrupts blood collection, health workers are concerned that pregnant women and children in need of blood transfusion may be hit hard.

Mulanje District Health Office has suspended ambulance services in areas experiencing instability.

This has disrupted outreach clinics in hard-to-reach areas where child health and antenatal services are almost inaccessible because health facilities are far apart.

According to Mulanje DHO spokesperson Innocent Chavinda, the suspension of blood collection by MBTS means fewer pints for health facilities in the tea-growing district.

“We already get fewer pints from MBTS every Tuesday. In the following weeks, we are expecting even fewer units. This will compromise care provided to pregnant women and children, the groups which usually need blood transfusion,” he explains.

The irony is that the hospital has not found a single person whose blood was sucked by the alleged attackers, he says.

“The locals are associating the issue with magic, but they are wary of any vehicle and attack any suspicious person,” he adds.

With rumours and fear steadily deteriorating into lawlessness, mob justice and terror each passing day, healthcare providers wish the situation normalised yesterday or even earlier for every person dying of treatable condition is one too many.

Shedding blood in defence of blood endangers lives of those dying for blood in hospitals. n


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