The Namibian (Windhoek)

21 January 2013

Namibia: Blood Transfusion Service Sets the Record Straight

THE public is questioning the sale of donated blood to patients.

This came to light in a number of SMSes sent to The Namibian.

According to the Blood Transfusion Service (BTS), people have a misconception of the services it delivers and charges for. "This issue comes up once or twice every year," said Leandi Sadie, the service's consultant for donor recruitment and public relations.

According to the BTS, it is necessary to charge for the cost of collecting, testing, producing, storing and delivering safe blood products to patients, in order to sustain the service. No profit is made.

Sadie said the State covers the cost of blood products at State hospitals, while patients at private hospitals are charged as part of their inclusive hospital bill. Medical aid funds cover the cost of blood products just like any other medical expense, she said.

"We hope the public understands that we do not sell blood," said Sadie. The BTS merely charges for the logistics of getting the much-needed blood products to the patient on time.

Blood products constitute red blood cells, platelets and frozen plasma.

Red blood cells are the most commonly used, to replace blood lost during surgery or accidents. "Almost 37 000 units are issued per year," explained Sadie.

Platelet concentrate is issued to patients suffering from leukemia or other cancers and those awaiting organ transplants.

Frozen plasma is given to burn victims and patients with bleeding disorders. "The plasma contains clotting factors that prevent bleeding and restores blood volume," she said.

The shelf life of red blood cells is 37 to 42 days, frozen plasma can last up to 12 months and platelets last only five days. Blood units are issued to 51 hospitals and clinics.

On the idea that donors should be paid for their blood, Sadie responds that, "the World Health Organisation (WHO) has regulations in place that prohibit blood services around the world from offering an incentive to blood donors".

She added that the BTS is a non-profit organisation and even if it was allowed to offer donors an incentive, it would not be financially responsible to do so. "The patient would suffer at the end of the day as costs would have to be recovered," said Sadie.

Sadie also sketched the hypothetical dangers involved in paying donors for blood, stating that the donor might be encouraged to lie on the questionnaire. "Any false information might put the blood recipient and donor at serious risk."

Sadie said the BTS would not be able - legally, financially or ethically - to pay blood donors or offer them incentives.

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