DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
AS Elizabeth Jere, 23 of Lusakaâ€™s Mtendere cradles her daughter, she is grateful that a blood donor has given her tiny bundle of joy a chance to live.
Sitting on the bed waiting to be discharged from the University Teaching Hospital (UTH), she cannot wait to go home and introduce the new member to her family. Her new-born baby was able to go home because an unknown blood donor had donated blood to her through the Zambia National Blood Transmission Service (ZNBTS).
â€œI never thought my baby would need a litre of blood within two days of being born. I thank God for the blood donor. My daughter has a rare blood type -B negative – and we struggled to find it,â€ Ms Jere narrates.
And strangely, a few weeks after giving birth, Ms Jere started feeling dizzy; sometimes tired and generally weak.
She initially thought it could probably be an indication of iron deficiency.
â€œThe trouble is that I was not sure if I was feeling that way due to iron deficiency, because during antenatal lessons, we were told that most new mums usually feel tired. So I thought I was feeling low because of the baby blues, or the other challenges that come with caring for a new-born,â€ she says.
Ms Jere tried to observe if she had other symptoms of iron deficiency, such as irregular heartbeat (palpitations), breathlessness, and paleness, but she had no such warning signs.
A few days later, she just collapsed while coming out of the bathroom.
â€œThe next thing is that I found myself on a hospital bed in UTH with a tube of blood streaming into my veins. My daughter, Grace was nowhere near my bed. It was like I had woken up from slumber, not knowing what was going on,â€ Ms Jere said.
Grace is her first child and while she was pregnant, Ms Jere had no idea that she and her new-born baby would be needing blood.
â€œUntil this experience, I had no idea that my daughter and I would have a shortage of blood to a point of almost losing our livesâ€ she says.
After undergoing a blood transfusion, Ms Jere was discharged from hospital and today she is enjoying good health.
â€œI will forever remain grateful to the blood donors because they saved our lives. My heart is full of gratitude, how I wish I could know the person that shared their blood with us,â€ Ms Jere says.
As she spoke, she was visibly touched by people who live a lifestyle of donating blood to save the lives of people they hardly know.
â€œWhen I reflect on my time in the Intensitive Care Unit (ICU) when I needed three transfusions to stay alive, I also think about the sick babies and young children that hospitals take care of on a daily basis. I have come to appreciate that donating blood is vital and it goes a long way in helping someone in need,â€ Ms Jere says.
Blood donors do indeed save lives and help the needy live healthy lives, but unfortunately many patients requiring transfusion do not have timely access to safe blood because of the dwindling trends in blood donation.
ZNBTS director Joseph Mulenga says donating blood is a simple process.
â€œIt is a four-step process,â€ he says, â€œa quick registration, medical history and mini-physical checkup, then donation and (serving of) refreshments. It is a safe process, and a sterile needle is used only once for each donor and then discarded,â€ Dr Mulenga adds.
He explained that the actual blood donation takes about 10-12 minutes.
The entire process, from the time you arrive to the time you leave, takes about an hour and 15 minutes.
Health experts say that on average, an adult has about 10 pints of blood in his body. Only one pint (450ml) is given during a donation.
â€œA healthy male donor may donate blood every three months, and for females it is every four months because of their nature,â€ Dr Mulenga says.
But why should one donate blood?
Dr Mulenga says one does not need a special reason to give blood, but most blood donors say they are inspired to so because they â€œwant to help others.â€
â€œWhatever your reason, the need (for blood) is constant and your contribution is important for a healthy and reliable blood supply.
â€œAnd youâ€™ll feel good knowing youâ€™ve helped save a life,â€ Dr Mulenga says.
But collecting blood is not as simple as the process is, and blood transfusions currently face interesting challenges worldwide.
â€œTransfusion-transmissible infections (TTIs), such as HIV, hepatitis virus, syphilis, and malaria have provoked a greatly heightened emphasis on safety with inescapable implications for the complexity and cost of providing a transfusion service,â€ Dr Mulenga says.
One of the biggest challenges to blood safety, particularly in Zambia and the sub-Saharan Africa is accessing safe and adequate quantities of blood and blood products.
Dr Mulenga says communities in Zambia and Africa as a whole face several enduring challenges such as chronic blood shortages, high prevalence of TTIs, lack of national blood transfusion services, recruitment and retention of voluntary non-remunerated donors, and several myths and fears.
â€œAddressing these challenges should be a central priority in order to have successful blood transfusion services, particularly in African countries like Zambia, to ensure the uninterrupted supply of safe blood and blood products,â€ Dr Mulenga says.
He adds that blood donation is a life-saving activity because blood cannot be manufactured in a laboratory neither bought from a pharmacy.
â€œBlood is in the veins of humans. That is why people have to consider blood donation as an important service to humans,â€ Dr Mulenga says.
Blood is donated at oneâ€™s free will and without payment to the donor.
Zambia has blood collection centres in all the 10 provincial centres, however, the country continues to face a deficit in the supply of blood to patients in need.
According to Dr Mulenga, the country needs about 150,000 units of blood per year to sufficiently cater for Zambiaâ€™s growing blood needs.
According to the ZNBTS statistics, the quantity of donated blood has been declining in the past years.
In 2013, collected blood units were 113,386, in 2014 the quantity went down to 109,269 units and further down to102, 341 units in 2015.
â€œThe country only manages to get 100,000 units of donated blood, leaving a deficit of 50,000 units. There is need for more Zambians to come forward and donate blood which can save more lives in hospitals,â€ Dr Mulenga says.
DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka