Less than one per cent of the local population of Barbados regularly gives blood and this concerns the Blood Collection Centre at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Anderlene Sealy, who has been in charge of the unit for the last twelve years says less than 200 people are consistent donors and many of them are still called upon to give blood in emergency situations, especially if there is a mass casualty event. The Centre needs a minimum of 25 units of blood daily and along with whole blood donation there is also a need for plasma and platelet donation.
Currently, most Barbadians only give blood if a relative or friend is pregnant, ill or if they were involved in an accident.
Sealy said that during hectic times of the year like Crop-Over and the holidays fewer people come to the centre making the deficit even more glaring.
Speaking ahead of World Blood Donor Day which is being recognised tomorrow under the theme Give the gift of life: donate blood, she said the blood bank needs more deposits.
“If something happens you see a lot of people coming to the unit, in one instance we had about 60 people respond to requests following a major accident,” she said. “But out of that number only 48 met the criteria for giving blood voluntarily. We really need more donors.”
Fifty-year old John Wilson, also known as ‘Ricky’ is the Programme Manager for Environment, Energy and Climate Change for Barbados and the OECS at the United Nations Development Programme. He has been regularly donating blood since 1980, on average four times a year. He was first asked to make a donation while a student at the Harrison College after a fellow student was involved in a serious accident.
Of the 10 boys who went to give blood he believes he is the only one who has ever returned. He puts it down to a fear of needles.
“You thought it was going to be this big massive needle, when I got there I cracked jokes with all the ladies and it was quite an easy experience.” He said there is a quick, sharp sting from the needle, the blood is collected and a half-an-hour later it is all over,” he said.
But Sealy said some donors are also scared of finding out their HIV status.
“We’ve had people come in who say they don’t want to know the results, so yes I think that stops people from coming in,” she noted.
However, she further explained that the centre offers counseling for individuals who are not accepted as blood donors or who have abnormal test results.
Wilson said he is constantly encouraging friends to give blood with little success so far, “I say listen this is your way to make sure that you are good, usually if you don’t go to the doctor, you are getting your pressure taken and this is a way to know you’re good.”
Donated blood goes through a rigorous screening process before it is available for transfusion; these include tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Currently, anyone who has a tattoo for under a year, has multiple sex partners, same sex partners, engages in anal sex or has Hepatitis B or C is not eligible to give blood.
Wilson said while he gives blood every three months, he no longer gives blood if asked.
“Everybody used to call me and ask me to give for their friends or their family and they wouldn’t give themselves. I use to do it freely but now I insist they have to give as well,” he noted.
He aims to beat the record for donating a hundred units of blood or more currently held by Dr. Terry Meeks who donated 103 units of blood over the last 25 years.
It was blood donation from friends and family which saved 56-year old Patricia Thornton’s life 25-years ago. A regular donor then, she was involved in an accident which crushed her liver and caused such incessant bleeding that she needed between 30 and 40 pints of blood during her first week in hospital.
“So many people came to give blood on my behalf after the accident that many of them were turned away. They saved my life … even if you don’t know the person. It is only a pint, give one, you have between nine to 12 pints and your body can make it back,” she said.
Though fully recovered from the accident hypertension prevents Thornton from donating. “I am still encouraging people I know to give blood. It is important; everyone who can should do it.”
Wilson concluded that giving blood is the best way to help others. “You never know when you yourself may need it. If I got in an accident with somebody else I would get the blood before them because I am a regular donor,” he said.
According to the World Health Organisation blood collection from voluntary non-remunerated blood donors is the cornerstone of a safe and sufficient blood supply. Their aim is that all countries obtain all their blood supplies from 100 per cent voluntary unpaid donors by 2020.
In the tenth year of the campaign their research is indicating that frequent, voluntary blood donors are the safest source of blood, because there are fewer blood-borne infections among those donors than among people who donate for family members in emergencies or who give blood for payment.
The QEH’s Blood Collecting Centre is located next to the Sir Winston Scott Polyclinic in LadyMeade Gardens. It is opened Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. with the last collection at 3:15 p.m. On Saturdays the centre opens from 8 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. Give blood, every donation is a gift of life.