27 January 2005

Zambia: HIV/Aids And Superstitions Keeping Blood Banks Empty

HAVE you ever come across a helpless patient in need of blood after giving birth or going through a surgical operation?

Or maybe you have lost a close relative at some point due to excessive bleeding after an accident.

Whichever way, these are problems that can easily be avoided if people change their attitudes towards donating blood.

In a bid to improve the public's attitude towards donating blood, Government established the Zambia National Blood Transfusion Services (ZNBTS) in the late 1980s.

ZNBTS aims at collecting blood from blood donors and storing it for emergency cases and its creation has so far gone miles in resuscitating individuals who fall prey to the many complications that come about due to lack of blood.

Without the existence of such a board many whose lives were saved by blood transfusion would have died.

Although the programme has made strides in educating the public on the importance of giving blood, many people have continued shunning this noble cause due to a myraid of myths.

In a recent survey done on views about donating blood, most individuals talked to said they shunned blood donations based on spiritual and religious grounds.

Some people have this fear that satanists connive with personnel from ZNBTS to collect blood from innocent people and later use the blood to initiate the donors into satanism.

Others fear that donating blood would place them in a position where their HIV/AIDS status is exposed, at a time when they might not be prepared for it.

In view of such myths surrounding blood donations, a group of concerned Zambians recently teamed up to improve sensitisation among the general populous.

Sandra Ngoma, a business woman who recently donated her blood to ZNTBS in Lusaka, said that there was need for ZNBTS to enlighten communities against the myths.

Ms Ngoma also called for concerted efforts to reduce the stigma associated with the HIV/AIDS pandemic if more people were to be attracted to donate blood.

"HIV/AIDS is just like any other common disease and therefore, there is no need to stigmatise the infected people," Ms Ngoma says.

Patriotic Zambians , she said should break away from such myths if health institutions are to have a steady flow of blood to administer for emergency cases.

Good reserve banks for blood in hospitals are critical as evidenced by the fact that the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) blood bank uses an average of 60 units of blood per day.

Therefore, the ZNBTS partnership with the corporate world to ensure enough supply of blood in health institutions is commendable.

One such company from the corporate world that has now partnered with ZNBTS in this noble cause is Professional Insurance. The company encourage its staff to donate blood once in four months.

Professional Insurance staff have been instrumental in donating blood for the past two years which by every standard, is a welcome development because UTH is currently facing a serious blood shortage.

ZNBTS recruiter Elisabeth Nyirabazambanza recently said there was need for members of the public to donate blood to boost the dwindling reserves.

She said the hospital's bank was unable to supply other health institutions because of the increased demand, especially that even other hospitals like Kafue, depended on the UTH blood bank.

MS Nyirabazambanza noted that though most members of public were scared to donate blood for fear that their HIV/AIDS status would be exposed, her organisation did not reveal individual's HIV/AIDS status.

She said after the blood test, the results were strictly kept confidential.

Ms Nyirabazambanza added that once the blood tested HIV/AIDS positive ZNBTS disposed off such blood secretly.

She said in order to contain the constraints that prevent members of public to donate blood her organisation was trying to intensify its sensitisation campaign to attract more individuals to donate the commodity.

She commended Professional Insurance manager, Ashok Chawla (who himself is a regular voluntary blood donor and has so far donated blood 33 times) for his company's commitment towards blood donation.

And Professional Insurance deputy marketing manager Clara Shindano said ZNBTS needed support from everybody in its efforts to maintain a steady reserve of blood.

She urged other stakeholders in the country to emulate her company in terms of blood donation.

"It is such a sad sight to lose a life because there is no blood. Let us think about people involved in accidents, our mothers who may have complicated labour, patients with cancer," said Ms Shindano.

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