Blood from commercial donors prone to infections, haematologists warn

Medical experts in blood transfusion practice have said relatives of those requiring blood transfusion should desist from sourcing it from commercial donors, warning that they can be harbingers of infectious diseases.

The haematologists noted that blood collected from commercial donors cannot be trusted due to their risk behaviours, which often make their blood unsafe for transfusion.

A survey by the Federal Ministry of Health showed that 10 per cent of all blood transfused in Nigeria may be unsafe, indicating that they carry the risk of transmitting HIV, hepatitis B, C and syphilis.

The survey revealed that the bulk of unsafe blood in the country comes from those commercially donated.

The experts who spoke exclusively to PUNCH Healthwise advised Nigerians to volunteer to donate blood and ignore myths around blood donation.

According to them, regular blood donation comes with a lot of health benefits to the donors and not only the recipients.

A Professor of Haematology and Transfusion Medicine at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Sulaimon Akanmu, said regular blood donation at least twice a year enhances lifespan and promotes good health.

He noted that a potential donor should be between 18 and 60 years.

Akanmu, who is also a Consultant Haematologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, said people should stop thinking that they do not have sufficient blood for themselves let alone for others.

He cautioned that people should stop being afraid to donate blood.

The haematologist said that those who donate blood regularly do not suffer from iron-excess-related disorders which make people age faster.

The professor said, “People don’t believe that they have sufficient blood for themselves. So, they are afraid to give out their blood. People should have the mindset that the donation of blood promotes good health.

“Voluntary blood donation should be twice a year. When it is done over 10 years, they are called volunteer return donors.

“This group of people have fantastic medical advantages in the sense that they do not suffer from iron-excess-related disorders.

“In layman’s language, iron-excess-related disorders are chronic disorders that make people age faster when they have excess iron in their bodies. Regular blood donation, therefore, enhances lifespan.”

Akanmu noted that in the developed world, most blood donors are voluntary, stressing that on their own, people go to blood banks to donate blood freely, which he says was the  World Health Organisation standard.

According to him, 100 per cent of blood donations in the developed world are done without money involved.

The  don decried Nigeria’s unmet blood needs, saying, “The country is faced with a huge blood supply deficit far below the WHO’s recommendation.”

“The WHO stipulates that at least one per cent of the population must be able or willing to donate blood.

“With a population of 200 million people, we need between two to four million units of blood annually in Nigeria going by the indicators that the WHO had provided for us to meet the transfusion requirement of Nigerians,” he said.

The professor said the amount of red blood cells in the blood of commercial donors is usually small and not very useful to the recipients.

According to him, in the transfusion service, the watchword is safety.

Emphasizing the implications of sourcing blood from commercial donors, the professor said, “Touting is frowned upon in blood transfusion service anywhere in the world and it is not the way to go.

“Nigerians must know that paying for people’s blood is not the way to go. The way to go is voluntary blood donation.

“All we want in the blood transfusion service is safety. Voluntary blood donors are often gainfully employed and, therefore, do not ask for money before donating their blood.

“Such people usually test negative for infectious diseases. And their blood is usually good because they are not commercialising it. If you screen them and the result is negative, you can trust that result.”

Speaking further on the risks associated with obtaining blood from commercial donors, Akanmu reiterated, “But when you collect blood from commercial donors and you screen the blood and it tests negative, you still don’t trust it. Commercial donors usually test positive for infectious diseases.

“You don’t have to trust it because these touts get themselves involved in risky behaviours that may make them positive for infectious diseases. And the time of screening for blood donation may be the incubation (latency) period.”

The branch secretary of the Nigerian Red Cross, Lagos State, Olakunle Lasisi, on his part, says there is a need to reduce commercial blood donors.

He said “We need to encourage people to be voluntary blood donors. To be a voluntary blood donor means you must have chosen to do that without any form of pressure and you must have heard of it and want to be part of it.

“We have about 70-75 per cent of our members who are youths and it’s easier for us to penetrate and we have ambassadors in the society to encourage blood drive.”