Blood donations save lives... so why not make it easier?

It’s well established that violent crime and road accidents place great strain on the health sector.

A study in 2014 showed costs amounting to $12.6 billion to cover health care for people in Jamaica who had been victims of violence and road accidents.

The mind boggles at the thought of the equivalent strain on health staff.

Yesterday’s commemoration of World Blood Donor Day reminds us of another aspect: The stressful, never-ending push to ensure there is always blood available to save lives.

Nurses Association of Jamaica President Ms Patsy Edwards Henry emphasises that there would be reduced demand for blood if there was much less violence and far fewer accidents. Sadly, that day remains a distant dream.

Thankfully, we hear that prior to the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 blood donations had been showing steady annual increases.

Statistics from the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) show that 28,271 units were collected in 2016; 32,088 units in 2017; 33,268 units in 2018; and 33,294 units in 2019.

And, while there was said to be a “dip” in 2020 because of the pandemic, more than 33,000 units of blood were collected that year.

Ms Keishawna Pinnock of the NBTS tells us that, while figures for 2021 are yet to be finalised, the projection is for “between 35,000 and 38,000 (units)...”

In addition to traditional blood collection drives, we are hearing that social media is having a growing positive impact.

That reflects the reality that, while there are downsides to that rapidly expanding, evolving communications phenomenon, its potential for society’s greater good is limitless.

Says Jamaica Medical Doctors Association President Dr Mindi Fitz Henley: “[S]ocial media has become more prominent, and so you are able to share when there is a need, whether it is personal or just in general. What you find happening a lot now is that if one person hears that there is a child, for example, who needs blood urgently, it can be shared in big way on social media, and very quickly you will have random people showing up to give blood.”

But Dr Fitz Henley also highlights the need to make blood donations easier and more convenient for those willing to step forward. Those issues are by no means new.

Specifically, the NBTS’s opening hours Mondays to Thursdays are from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. On Fridays, it’s 8:00 am to 3:00 pm. Those opening hours are when most working people are on the job. Also, the service is mostly absent on weekends when many people are on their days off.

Says Dr Fitz Henley, “[Y]ou [blood donor] would literally need to go on your lunch break. Unfortunately, the blood bank staff are also on their lunch break, so you end up going and have to wait quite a bit. And on weekends it’s very limited — there might be one or two spots that are open and that’s mainly in the Kingston and St Andrew region...”

Making blood donation hours more flexible will no doubt require additional resources for staffing and/or overtime. Yet, it’s clear that the additional investment to save lives would be well worth it.

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