Times were hard, and after spending tireless hours searching for a drink of blood, three scrawny vampire bats hung from the roof of an old house devising ways to procure some of the precious liquid for their dinner.
Suddenly, in desperation, the eldest flew off into the night. The others watched him go, knowing that it would have been another fruitless endeavour. Fifteen minutes later, the mammal returned, blood splattered all over its body. Excitedly, the others pleaded with their colleague to disclose where he had found blood in this ‘hard guava season.’
The vampire bat slowly licked the blood from his body, obviously enjoying the attention of his colleagues. “Do you see that huge steel structure way over there?” he finally asked. The other bats strained their eyes through the gloom and excitedly replied, ‘Yes, we see it!’ They anxiously awaited the accompanying details. The blood covered vampire bat looked them straight in the eye and truculently replied, “Well, I didn’t!”
Just as blood is a necessary staple for vampire bats, so, too, human beings are in dire need of the commodity to address a host of misfortunes.
Careless use of the roads, resulting in loss of lives and limbs; brutal domestic confrontations that leave combatants nursing life threatening injuries; adventurous children that roam and climb, in the process incurring injuries that require surgical interventions are just a fraction of the many cases that place a strain on the meagre resources of the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS). Then there are cases when other private medical institutions request supplies to perform surgeries at their hospitals.
Obviously, in the absence of a viable replenishment programme, medical practitioners at the NBTS will be hard-pressed to meet these demands. The sordid truth is that accident victims and other unfortunate patients seeking surgical intervention for life-threatening injuries will die unless blood is available to facilitate this process.
Life is replete with ironies! The vampire bat sustained injuries while searching for blood; human beings, on the contrary, sustain injuries and then go searching for blood. However, God’s supreme creatures, human beings, remain cognizant of their impending needs and devise ways to cater for those needs. The NBTS, situated at Lamaha and East Streets, Georgetown, is the designated storehouse for blood needed for surgical interventions.
Unfortunately, despite spirited efforts by officials of this institution to create the level of awareness needed to maintain a healthy supply of the commodity, the lax attitude of other stakeholders stagnates the process, increasing the incidences of death.
The concomitant result is an alarming paucity of this life-saving liquid at the NBTS which, sad to say, has reduced us to the level of the vampire bat — searching for blood only when we are desperately in need.
Instead of recognizing that our transgressions have created this anomaly and aspire to correct it, we bombard officials at the NBTS as though we expect a regular supply to fall like manna from the sky. Should the truth be told, we would discover that the blood stored at the NBTS, and utilized for emergency surgeries, was initially donated by healthy and compassionate human beings like you and me.
It is from this storehouse that surgeons draw a supply to nurse patients back to a healthy state. This rationale is so simple it needs no rocket scientist to deduce. Yet, a current scarcity has forced officials to re-issue stringent calls for voluntary donors to replenish an alarmingly depleting stock.
I’m not certain if a scientific survey has been conducted to inform the authorities of the reasons behind the lax attitudes of potential donors, but an unofficial talk with many persons nails the causes to varying misconceptions.
The chief among them are fears of being contaminated. This is a logical reaction, especially amidst the preponderance of diseases, none more devastating than the dreaded HIV/AIDS virus.
The officials at the NBTS are fully aware of the deep-seated concerns nurtured by potential donors, and have made efforts to sensitize clients on the intricacies of blood donation.
Information that clearly explains the requirements pertaining to donor eligibility, as well as issues relating to the donor’s health and concerns, receives strict attention to minimize infections associated with blood transfusions.
The NBTS has also provided critical information in the form of a pamphlet that details some of the pressing questions asked by voluntary donors on the intricacies of blood donation. These can be uplifted at the Lamaha and East Streets clinic.
Notwithstanding these efforts by the NBTS, the response has been anything but encouraging. Citizens are seeking solid proof that their generosity will not lead to their deaths because of infected needles or other apparatus used to extract their blood.
At a time when the NBTS reports dangerously low supplies, an altruistic stance may be the best argument for rolling up your sleeves and parting with a unit of the life saving substance.
It is painfully obvious that many people are shirking this honourable civil responsibility out of a concern for their own health. These revelations obviously point to a need to sensitize the public on the benefits that can be derived from blood donation.
Studies have shown that high iron content in the body increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks. Victor Herbert, MD, a hematologist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, points out that there are normally about 1000 milligrams of iron stored in the average adult man’s body, but only about 300 milligrams in pre-menopausal women.
He further noted that once women stop menstruating, their iron levels and their heart disease risks begin to climb, matching that of men.
A scientific study of 2,682 men in Finland reported in the September 1998 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology that men who donate blood at least once a year have an 88 percent lower risk of heart attack than non-donors. These men are also less likely to show signs of cardiovascular diseases.
Another researcher from the University of Florida, Jerome Sullivan, suggests that there is now evidence to support the contention that giving blood can have reciprocal benefits which can also save the giver’s life. He posits that every time someone donates blood, a portion of the high iron content in the body disappears. Sullivan believes that excessive iron increases the risk of heart disease.
He explains: “Iron has been shown to speed the oxidation of cholesterol, a process thought to increase the damage to arteries that ultimately leads to heart disease.”
Sullivan’s theory supports that of Herbert. He juxtaposes women’s menstrual cycle with their low iron output as evidence of minimal cardiovascular diseases in women. On the contrary, men begin storing iron in body tissues starting in their twenties, which is just about the time their heart attack danger begins to climb.
Blood banks, for their part, have been a bit squeamish about motivation for donation, other than altruism, even though there is a dire shortage in the blood supply. Economic challenges have given rise to a new phenomenon of selling the product.
Such tactics may appear to be addressing the dire need for blood, but there are debilitating setbacks. Self-interest has tainted the blood supply before.
Initially, with money being the primary objective, some donors lied about their medical history. Those with self-interests in donating blood were more likely to have hepatitis and other diseases.
As such, there is a strict policy at the NBTS that frowns on such transactions. Coupled with this, officials disclose, once they discover that someone is selling blood, has lied about their medical history, or are involved in other underhand activities that compromise a pure blood supply, that person is placed on a blacklist and is disqualified from making future donations.
Officials at the NBTS recently intimated that in August they only had a buffer stock of 11 units. The preferred amount in the buffer stock is 144 units. Unlike the early days when the absence of scientific methods increased the chances of tainted blood, medical personnel are now meticulously screening blood for all bone-borne diseases.
These include HIV, Hepatitis B and C, Human T’lymphocysis Virus, Syphilis, Malaria (this is a deadly parasite, and as such is subjected to a double check). Chiggas is a deadly blood-borne disease that is also prevalent in the South American region. To date, scientists are yet to discover a cure for this disease.
Although there has been no reported case of chiggas in Guyana, medical authorities still conduct stringent tests to ensure that all donated blood is free from this disease.
While many doctors are yet to be convinced of Sullivan’s iron hypothesis, they all agree on the theory of wisdom and compassion.
There is a popular adage advocating that, ‘Once you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.’ Citizens cannot straddle the fence while shirking their civil responsibilities, and then complain when their loved ones die because they cannot access blood for life-saving surgeries.
Consumers deposit cash at commercial banks to make provision for the time they are most in need of it. One cannot withdraw what he/she did not put in. Incidentally, the same theory holds for the blood bank.
Over the past week, the staffs of Kaieteur News as well as several other civic-minded institutions, like the Cyril Potter College of Education, among others, have answered the call and made worthwhile donations to the NBTS. This is indeed a credible gesture, but, unfortunately, there is a dire need for much more.
Man is supposed to be far more intelligent than vampire bats and other creatures, yet he continues to violate reasonable laws. The squirrel knows that food will be hard to find during winter, so he stocks up before hibernating. He doesn’t have to search frantically for a meal when he awakes in the middle of the winter.
Human beings, supposedly more intelligent, hibernate and then awake in search of food they did not store.
It is now time to stock up for the ‘hard guava season.’ Otherwise, we must not complain when we end up like the vampire bats —looking for blood we did not store.
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