A call for regular voluntary blood donors!

By:  Dr. Paul Mensah

January 26th, 2013.

Staff of the Accra Area Blood Centre pitched a colourful stand at the Accra Mall with the aim of creating public awareness on voluntary blood donation and providing a convenient opportunity for people to donate blood. A few hours later, some 45 passers-by had interrupted their shopping (and window-shopping) for the approximate 20 minutes it took to donate blood. These heroes walked away with the satisfaction of knowing that someone in dire need of a blood transfusion would live…simply because they gave! It was a delight to note that some ‘white’ shoppers even turned up to donate because they were regular blood donors back home in Europe and wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to give the gift of life even while holidaying in Ghana.

Nevertheless, and to my amusement, some other shoppers we approached at the Mall literally fled when broached with the idea to donate blood. Some of the reasons proffered by these ‘run-away’ donors included not being fit, not having enough blood, a fear of needles, fear of having their laboratory results ‘leaked’, and concerns about the sterility of instruments used and the safety of blood donation.

What is the Big Deal about Blood?

Blood is a highly specialized fluid that flows in our blood vessels. It performs vital functions like oxygen exchange, transport of essential nutrients, disposal of the body’s waste products, and helps us to fight infections. In every sense of the word, it has no substitute! Many medical conditions may necessitate a blood transfusion during one’s lifetime, notably massive blood loss during pregnancy and delivery, elective or emergency surgeries, severe trauma from road-traffic or industrial accidents, severe malaria, sickle cell anaemia, bone marrow failure, and cancers.

Why everyday ‘No blood!’?

The demand for blood far outstrips its supply. Statistics from the Accra Area Blood Centre reveal that about 130 blood units are requested by hospitals in the Accra catchment area alone on a daily basis. This translates to an annual demand in the Accra catchment area of almost 50,000 units of blood, of which the Centre was only able to supply 27,611 units in the year 2012.

100% voluntary blood donation is recognized worldwide as the only way to sustain safe and adequate blood supply to patients who need it. Voluntary non-remunerated blood donation however makes up less than 40% of the total annual blood collections in Ghana, with an overwhelming majority of blood donations coming from family replacement donors (those who donate only because a family member or friend needs blood). Voluntary donors are recognized as the safest donors because they are motivated by altruism and the desire to help others and by a sense of moral duty and social responsibility. The only reward they receive is personal satisfaction, self-esteem, and pride.

A family replacement system places the onus of blood supply on the patient’s family and friends rather than on the health system. This may compel unfit relatives to be untruthful about their health status in a bid to donate blood to save a loved one, thus compromising the safety of the donated blood. More importantly, adequate blood supply is unsustainable under the family replacement system because family members may not be able to find enough donors to replace all the blood that a patient receives. This is what accounts for the perennial problem of blood shortage in our blood banks as the family replacement system cannot guarantee the availability of blood when needed especially in emergency situations. Unavailability of blood can cost the lives of patients in need of blood transfusion. Further, it promotes a hidden paid system through the undesirable activities of unscrupulous elements who parade hospitals as paid blood donors, ‘selling their blood’ as an ‘essential commodity’ for as much as Gh¢150. This is a practice that the National Blood Service, together with all well-meaning Ghanaians, condemns in no uncertain terms. It therefore depends on all of us to become regular voluntary blood donors in order to phase out the family replacement system.


The ‘How’ of Blood Donation

Blood donation is simple, safe, and takes just about 15 minutes. It is performed by trained, competent, and friendly staff who adhere strictly to issues of confidentiality during and after the blood donation process. Every healthy male or female between the ages of seventeen (17) to sixty (60) years, and weighing 50kg or more can safely donate blood.

Blood can safely be donated every four months. Thus a voluntary blood donor can donate three times in a year without any adverse effect on health.

An initial registration process seeks to collect demographic data and the weight of the potential donor, after which a medical screening questionnaire is administered to the donor to ascertain his/her past and present health status. This is followed by a physical examination during which the pulse and blood pressure are checked. Additionally, tell-tale signs of disease are looked for, and a test for haemoglobin estimation is done. These steps ensure that only low-risk and healthy blood donors with adequate blood levels are selected to donate blood. This is done to safeguard the health of both the donor and the potential recipient of the donated blood.

When the blood donor has passed all these initial steps, he/she then proceeds to the donor couch where 450mls of blood (about a satchet of ‘pure’ water) is withdrawn from the vein into a sterile single-use blood bag using sterile disposable needles. The donor then rests for about 10 minutes, during which he/she is given a refreshing drink or juice to replenish the lost blood volume. Additionally, the donor is given post-donation advice and counseling regarding liberal fluid intake and avoidance of strenuous activity for that day, and ways to build up his/her haemoglobin level again.


No, the Blood Service doesn’t ‘sell’ blood!

Blood that is donated is considered a ‘raw material’ that needs to be processed into a ‘usable form’. Processing of blood includes screening for infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and Syphilis. Additionally, the donated blood needs to be grouped into the various blood groups that individuals uniquely possess, and processed into specific therapeutic components. These processes, together with the cost of consumables like blood bags, syringes, latex gloves, test tubes, plaster, labels, stationery, donor cards, educational leaflets, promotional items, and electricity for blood storage is what constitutes the processing fee that recipients of blood pay for.

When a patient needs blood, his/her blood group needs to be determined in the laboratory, and donated blood units with the same blood group crossmatched to ensure compatibility and prevent transfusion reactions. Presently, the Accra Area Blood Centre charges a highly-subsidized fee of Gh¢40 for a unit of blood, made up of Gh¢31 for a unit of blood and and Gh¢9 for patient grouping and crossmatch.

Though the blood itself was freely and voluntarily given, these charges are necessary to offset the running costs of the Blood Service, and must not be misconstrued as ‘selling of blood’. Official receipts are issued for all payments made, and legitimate refund of monies is allowed in the event that the blood is no longer needed.


What is in it for you?

Voluntary blood donors experience many benefits. The first is the self-satisfaction that arises from acts of kindness that help to save lives. Regular blood donors also benefit from periodic medical exams and counseling that ensure good health and helps detect diseases early. Further, donors become aware of their blood groups, information that is extremely useful when medical emergencies arise. Blood donors also enjoy a good network of friends with other voluntary blood donors. Finally (and perhaps most importantly), regular and adequate supply of safe blood is assured for all, an important concept when one considers the fact that there is no way of telling who might need blood next.


Will you help?

Voluntary blood donation is not the preserve of some people, but the responsibility of each one of us. YOU stand in the unique position to do something amazing today by becoming a regular voluntary blood donor. Join us at the Life Healthcare Clinic (Gate 1) of the Accra Mall every last Saturday of each month, or Mondays to Saturdays at any of our static sites within Accra and Tema – Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, 37 Military Hospital, Ridge Regional Hospital, and Tema General Hospital. Voluntary blood donation can also be done at the other Regional Hospitals, the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, and the Tamale Teaching Hospital.

You can also reach the National Blood Service on 0302681281/2, 0289518389, or 0244760257 to organize a blood donation drive at your workplace, your social club or your church or mosque. For more information, visit our website,

If for any reason you cannot donate blood, you can still support the activities of the National Blood Service through advocacy, expertise, or sponsorship.

Remember, someone lives when someone gives! Don’t wait – IT’S IN YOU TO GIVE!

The writer is the Head of the Accra Area Blood Centre.



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