the blood in your veins can do good for somebody else – go and donate NOW! (or tomorrow)

Blood! (Photo: Simon Kaheru)
A COUPLE of weeks ago my brother Paul erupted in the middle of a conversation with considerable irritation that the national blood bank had run out of a rare blood type and someone was drumming up a campaign to urgently find this blood for a patient.

His irritation was understandable; this was certainly not the first we were hearing of a patient in need of life-saving intervention and some rare blood type being in short supply.

But why, he asked, does the Blood Bank not keep a database of those people with that rare blood type and keep going to them for regular deposits? If I am not O- today and I can’t donate that blood type I still won’t be O- next year and will feel as helpless when there is another distress call!

He had a point, but the conversation went its merry way and life moved on till several days later my friend Kamara Ariho told me his uncle couldn’t undergo critical surgery because there was insufficient blood at the Blood Bank to call on in case something went awry during his procedure.

The family was working out ways of contributing blood but the procedure is not as straightforward as putting together money for drinks at a wedding. It is actually simpler, but requires more advance planning.

That’s where we are challenged – advance planning. And that was what was irritating both Paul and Kamara. But to the credit of the people in charge, there is a register of blood donors that gets called upon when needed.

In the past among the cards and paperwork I always had in my wallet was that little card they give you when you donate blood. When you present that little strip card to the blood bank you are given priority as a blood donor, should you be in need of blood – and I have used them a couple of times.

You have to plan in advance though because the blood you donate to a blood bank must be screened and tested and taken through other scientific steps I am not academically qualified to elaborate here.

But having gone through the donation and retrieval experiences many times myself I knew the anxiety families go through when they realise blood is suddenly needed. But even at that critical time, sadly, not many families rally round and become regular lifetime blood donors.

Another friend, Nada Andersen, annually makes pilgrimages to donate blood and keeps mobilising us to join her. This week I had blood on my mind when I got fed up of the high-brow analysis in one of my many WhatsApp groups where Kampala-based people dissect such things as John (Donald) Trump and his political beliefs and basic bad manners.

I interrupted their intellectual banter with a reminder that right here, just a few metres from all of our mobile phones, we could get together to solve a national blood bank issue rather than talk about Trump’s being a misogynist.

The seniormost officials in the Ministry of Health confirmed to me that there is, indeed, a shortfall in stocks of blood – for a variety of reasons including few donors and lack of certain sundries. Our annual need is 260,000 units but we only collected 240,000 last year.

Also, the shelf life of blood is 35 days only, so if we don’t consistently replenish the stocks then…(and that explains why sometimes there is an urgent need for the rare blood types).

Since in recent days a national debate has arisen over whether or not to refer to a certain court order as stupid, here are some clear candidates for the adjective: Anyone who discusses Trump and Brexit et al while riding around in this town at risk of finding themselves in urgent need of blood, and has never donated blood; Anyone who can donate money for a party activity but has never donated half a litre of blood that would be life-saving if said party activity results in a medical emergency; and so on and so forth in that vein (excuse pun).

To free myself of any such description, I went back this week and was pleased to find that the process is still quite easy and straightforward. Better still, computerization has now been introduced, so Paul’s irritation will decrease in future.

First of all, it’s not just a ‘Blood Bank’, we have seven Regional Blood banks at Arua, Fort Portal, Gulu, Kitovu, Mbale, Mbarara and Nakasero, and six blood collection centers in Hoima, Jinja, Kabale, Rukungiri, Lira and Soroti (says UBTS is the Uganda Blood Transfusion Service, headquartered in Nakasero where the Nakasero Blood Bank stands.

There are pleasant people there trying to do their jobs well, even though the toll free line listed on the website (0800122422) is currently out of service. That’s an opportunity right there for some telecommunications company to offer something right away.

As I dialled their listed land lines (the call attendant could do with some phone etiquette training) I realised that we all need to save the numbers in our phones because one day we might need them (0414259195/0414257155).

Imagine you one day need blood urgently and you are standing in a hospital corridor with panicked relatives all scrolling through phone books for help. Won’t you will feel silly seeing contacts of Rolex guys, mechanics, boda boda men and all the other day-to-day people you find important rather than the lifesavers?

The process, as I said, is quite simple. At Nakasero they have six beds so they can easily handle six people at a time at the drop of a hat, but if many more turn up then they will mobilise more beds and other equipment.

The ladies who handled me were courteous, strict and happy to be of service – insisting that I waited my full ten minutes while resting after I had donated, even though I claimed to be strong enough to up and go.

I liked the way they had decorated their treatment room with bits of Christmas tinsel

The little decorations that made me smile (Photo: Simon Kaheru)
and made a mental note to take them a Christmas gift at the end of the year – may even to all the Blood Banks. Those small gestures also make a difference in a way.

But I also hope for bigger differences in the way we do things as individuals and companies. I hope some restaurants or hotels, for instance, offer special discounts to people who present valid blood donation cards. After we have given blood, one of the items a donor is given is a soda and a biscuit or two (I declined, as I had carried a health drink of my own).

The soda and biscuit companies should wake up to a campaign where we get discounts if we present a valid blood donation card. The t-shirt and merchandising companies can also throw in a few gift items for donors, just to say ‘Thank you and come again!’ to people with valid blood donation cards.

The rest of you can take in a whole load of other things that would make it easier for those hard working people to collect more blood – even those foam squeezy balls that they give the blood donor to squeeze as the blood is flowing out into those bottles:

Strong veins, but focus on that squeezie foam ball for a bit & donate some? (Photo: Simon Kaheru)
I keep saying “valid blood donation card” because the rules say men can donate once every three months and women once every four months. Donating once in your lifetime is certainly NOT enough.

And this blood, as numerous stickers and flyers at the Blood Bank state, is FREE OF CHARGE. Nobody asks you to pay for it.

We can give more than just blood:

You and I can mobilise more people to donate blood; the UBTS Director, Dr. Dorothy Kyeyune, told me that NSSF ran a blood drive last week that collected more than 4,000 units of blood!