Benguema, located in the heart of the small town of Waterloo, about 30km from Freetown, was one of over a dozen centers designated as donation site for a nationwide coordinated voluntary blood donation exercise. It was part of this year’s World Blood Donor Day, commemorated every June 14.
Sierra Leone delayed the commemoration to organize the nationwide donation ceremony on June 21.
According to the Ministry of Health, the country faces a severe shortage of blood with potentially severe implication for a country battling an epidemic of maternal and infant mortality and high rates of deaths due to road accidents, among other life threatening health issues.
“Access to blood is critical to save the lives of, among others, women who experience haemorrhage (bleeding) during or after childbirth; sick children and babies; victims of road traffic accidents and disasters; and patients with cancer, thalassaemia, sickle cell disease and many other conditions,” the ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a joint statement marking the day.
The current stock of voluntary blood donations in Sierra Leone is just able to meet 15 percent of patients’ blood needs, the statement added. Yet the UN’s health agency recommends that all countries aim for 100 percent blood supply coming from voluntary donors as this has been shown to be the safest and most sustainable way of ensuring patients have access to blood when they need it.
Ms Williams, anchor of a radio program on health issues at Culture Radio in Freetown, was among 60 people, mostly military personnel of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces, who made blood donation at a ceremony hosted in the Kabba Hall in the Barracks. It was her first time donating blood.
Rachael says she was motivated by an incident she experienced at the main referral Connaught hospital while working on a story a few days earlier. A sick baby needed blood transfusion and the nurses wouldn’t let it get it unless a family member donated blood as replacement. This, according to officials at the Blood Bank, is a standard procedure for sick people in need of transfusion.
However, the baby’s mother couldn’t donate because she was battling malaria. The uncle of the baby didn’t match her either in terms of blood group.
When Rachael intervened, she was told by the nurses that that they didn’t know the patient was a baby, even though the mother had been standing outside the facility, her baby in hand.
“I was moved by that incident,” Rachael tells KMN.
“You never know whose life you will save. Pregnant women are dying due to hemorrhage and babies are dying due to shortage of blood,” she adds, calling for a change of attitude towards blood donation.
Beside Benguema, donation ceremonies were also held in several other sites across the country – include Youyi Building and Connaught Hospital in Freetown, and in all district headquarters towns.
At the National Blood Bank at Connaught, KMN’s Yangie Debora-Sesay spoke with Saio Y. Koroma, Medical Laboratory Officer, on the state of the blood bank there and their experience handling demands for blood transfusion to patients in need.
Mr Koroma lamented a culture of reluctance among even people whose family members lie in sick bed.
“The government and its partners have tried hard to set the stage for people to donate blood from time to time, but it’s unfortunate that the public is not responding positively,” he said.
According to experts, there is a constant need for regular blood supply because blood can be stored for only a limited time before use. Regular blood donations by a sufficient number of healthy people are therefore necessary to ensure that safe blood will be available whenever and wherever it is needed.
Professor Sahr Gevao of the National Blood Services Programme at the Ministry of Health and Sanitation spoke about the urgent need to address the issue of blood shortage.
“People lose their lives because of lack of access to blood. This is especially true for women who have difficulties in childbirth and sick children, but also for people who are in road accidents and other emergencies,” he said.
On Wednesday, a long time blood donor, Desmond Lewis, who happens to be a member of the National Association of Voluntary Blood Donors, gave his 100th pint of blood. Lewis appealed to fellow Sierra Leoneans to try same.
Besides the World Blood Donor Day, regular blood donation takes place all year round. All you have to do, if you are thinking of donating to save lives, is go to your district hospital, your local branch of the Red Cross or contact the National Association of Blood Donors to find out more about how to go about it.
Anyone who is healthy and aged between 17 and 60 years is encouraged to donate.
(Writing: Kemo Cham; reporting: Rchael Williams and Yangie Debora-Sesay)