A COUPLE of weeks ago I was back at the Nakasero Blood Bank – the Uganda Blood Transfusion Services – to make whatever little contribution I could in a dire situation.
The family of the highly respectable lawyer, Gerald Kakuba, were looking for blood group O- so he could undergo surgery. He lived a long and well-accomplished life, impacting very many other lives in a way that made us all proud to have had any link to him in life.
Sadly, he passed on and we celebrated his life and departure in fitting form.
Nevertheless, a bad taste lingered on with the thought that if we had had enough O- in supply he could have gone on a little longer. The taste got worse when we heard that he had been an avid blood donor from early on in his childhood.
While standing in the compound making calls and sending mobilisation messages, I was hit by deja vu. Pausing for thought brought the reason to me quite clearly:
Exactly a year ago we were in exactly this same position for another friendly parent and all the elements were the same: no Blood Group (or Type) O-; surgery pending; frantic mobilisation; kind, helpful but hapless staff at the UBTS lamenting a ‘national blood shortage crisis’…
A year had gone by and almost nothing had changed – besides the fact that people would die, perhaps.
The issue with Blood Group O-, we always get told, is that it is quite rare and yet is the universal donor type – which means that Blood Group O- is compatible with all other Groups.
See, Group A+ is compatible with two other Groups; A- with four; B+ with two; B- with four: O+ with four; AB+ with only one; AB- with two; and O- with ALL EIGHT.
So people with Blood Group O- carry the most selfless or generous blood type, yet they can only receive blood from Blood Group O-.
The logistics of medical blood use complicate matters a little bit here because donated blood will only stand usable for 35 days – and if Blood Group O- has been banked and any other Blood Type need arises, then the rare blood type will be put to use.
That means that even if all the pitifully few people in Blood Group O- continually donate their own blood in case their own need it, there will always be a high chance that it will be used up by somebody else.
UNLESS the rest of us who belong to the common Blood Groups pile up stocks of our own blood so we don’t use up the Blood Group O- one.
It may appear straightforward but it isn’t so in implementation. See, nothing is changing. Last week the NSSF people ran their (apparently annual) blood drive and collected just over 4,000 units of blood – same number as last year, same time.
Last year the ‘blood shortage crisis’ was attributed to children being on holiday and therefore collections being lower, because most collection drives target schools and schoolchildren. Same thing now.
Also, knowledgeable people said, during the holiday season more blood is used up because people do more life-threatening things and hospitals work harder at keeping them alive.
Year in, year out.
And annoyingly, regarding those life-threatening things we do, more of us out there will tell you what our favourite drinks are yet we have no clue what Blood Group we belong to!
Why don’t we learn, change, do things properly?
Luckily for some of us – those who DO find blood or need it when it is in supply – the passion, anxiety and earnestness of the people at UBTS hasn’t changed either. But neither has their tendency to wring their hands, ask for more help and hope for the best.
But nothing’s changing for the better.
In the process of our collection efforts last week, we established a WhatsApp Group for Blood Group O- people and we hope to keep growing it so we have a donation roster that will keep the Bank in a continuous, reliable supply of the stuff.
It is a hopeful, optimistic, yet very small intervention. A more serious one would be for ALL our organisations to keep track of all our Blood Groups (or Types) and ensure we ALL get onto the roster for donation.
For NSSF to be in the headlines over blood donation with 4,000 units (applause, applause!) while the entire Civil Service has more than 300,000 employees working there and NOT being seen donating should be considered irritating, if not outright shameful.
We ALL need to be bleeding hearts about this, before our hearts need that blood and stop pumping because it isn’t available in the bank.