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Make Blood Transfusion Services Safer, then Try to Win Back Public Confidence

The Citizen has an article about Tanzanians being reluctant to donate blood in the Mbeya region, in the South of the country. The article suggests that there is a lack of awareness about the safe blood program that gives rise to this reluctance.  Apparently, some people fear that donating blood will do them some harm.

While people needn’t worry about donating blood making them sick or weak, they might have reason to worry about the safety of the blood transfusion services. There may also be legitimate worries about receiving a transfusion in places where infection control procedures are poor, such as Tanzania. Mbeya is also one of the high HIV prevalence regions, with rates far higher than average.

Shortages of donated blood can lead to avoidable deaths. But it would be wrong to insist that everything is perfectly safe for donors and those receiving transfusions when this may not be the case. Perhaps the World Health Organization, in its great wisdom, will investigate the safety of blood transfusion and other services that may risk transmitting HIV, hepatitis and other blood borne diseases. Otherwise their assurances are useless.

A Tanzanian researcher, Dominic Mosha, carried out a study into the safety of pediatric blood transfusions in two hospitals in the North of Tanzania. He found that only 10% of the blood transfused came from the blood bank. The other 90% came directly from donors, often family members. The blood from direct donors was screened for HIV and syphilis, but it was not screened for hepatitis B and C.

Instead of calling for more people to donate and letting them think they are perfectly safe in doing so, it would be far better to accept that there are some problems and to work with the relevant authorities to resolve these. But lying about the risks when they have not been properly investigated is not going to increase confidence in blood transfusion services or health services in general.

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