Covid-19 lockdown further complicates blood collections

At the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown in March 2020, many were worried about the country’s economy and how far strained the health sector would be at the backdrop of a disgruntled workforce.

There was less attention drawn to blood transfusion or donations. Blood transfusions help everyone from car crash victims and cancer patients to new mothers and their newborn babies- there’s always need all the time.

An investigation by CITE revealed that in the past eleven months- National Blood Services Zimbabwe (NBSZ)- the country’s sole blood collector has been constrained by the pandemic and its lockdown.

Thanks to the pandemic NBSZ had to be on overdrive using creative means to help keep the stocks available.

“Blood only comes from the human body. We can’t get it anywhere else,” NBSZ spokesperson Esther Massundah quipped. 

A pint of blood can help save as many as four people’s lives because it gets separated into red blood cells, platelets and plasma.

Convalescent plasma therapy uses blood from people who have recovered from an illness to help others recover. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized convalescent plasma therapy for people with COVID-19.

However, there are no such known trials in Zimbabwe.

Doctors and nurses that spoke to CITE said Covid-19’s effects on blood supply bordered around a reduction in the number of donors, fears of loss of crucial staff (blood collectors) because of sickness, and re-arrangement of nursing duties in hospitals.

“I now work at a special Covid-19 centre. All of us were drawn from various areas such as theatre and causality wards which used to be busy and that’s where the high demand for blood is. With fewer people working there, it has become hard for hospitals to keep track of blood stocks and this, in turn, has an effect on information relayed to the blood supplier,” said a nurse from United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH).

Blood has a shelf life of 42 days or 6 weeks. 

This means because of continuous demand and life span just above a month, NBSZ should be active round the clock but its biggest source pool, schools have been closed since March 2020 although they briefly opened at the end of 2020.

“This has (lockdown) affected the schools’ donation program. Over 70% of our blood donations are from schools,” said Massundah.

Last week government extended the current lockdown by two weeks. This further complicates blood collections.

“The adult program has also been affected by the lockdown. The work from home is not good for us, some of our donors are reluctant now and some are from closed companies. We give them exemption letters to try to improve our situation,” she said.

The current lockdown working hours are 8 AM-3 PM and NBSZ has gone out of its way to target regular donors.

“We provide them with a shuttle service. We stagger our collections at this difficult time…and send them (donors) messages when they are due for donation. NBSZ has embarked also on a community program where we go to their communities, especially for school kids,” she added.

An adult person donates an average of 470ml of whole blood about 8% of a person’s volume. The body replaces this volume within 24 to 48 hours, and replenishes red blood cells in 10 to 12 weeks. 

Massundah said if a person tests Covid-19 they should wait for about a month before donating blood.

“You have to wait 28 days after testing Covid-19 negative to donate blood,” she said.

The Covid-19 recovery period depends on the severity of the illness. A mild case recovery takes about two weeks. More severe cases take six weeks or more, as such a blood donor can be inactive for two months and this is a challenge for stocking.

Because Covid-19 will be around for the unforeseeable future NBSZ has had to go on social media to attract new donors.

“We are now doing virtual talks to manage risks and we have introduced a Facebook feature. All those with a Facebook account can register to be donors,” she said.

Blood is free in public hospitals but at private institutions, it can sell for as much as US$150.

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