Donating blood is one thing. Receiving blood when you need it is quite another. The recent donation of $40,000 to the National Blood Services of Zimbabwe (NBSZ) by one of the country’s biggest mobile phone networks, has sparked debate about the price of blood in local hospitals.
If you have a car accident and need a blood transfusion, a pint of blood will cost you $135 in government hospitals and $161 in private hospitals. Many residents believe that these prices are in no way justified.
Nyasha Hungwe (46), who has been a donor for some years, complained to Harare News that the price of blood is too high. Hungwe was referring to the fact that the National Blood Services of Zimbabwe (NBSZ) gets blood donated for free from donors. Hungwe’s concerns were echoed by a number of people who spoke to Harare News.
Donated blood is administered to patients who may have lost blood through excessive bleeding during child birth or injuries. It is given to them through a process called blood transfusion.
Jacob Chivaraidze whose relative was recently diagnosed with cancer and required a blood transfusion said it is disheartening that patients have to pay such high amounts to receive blood. “Some of the patients are blood donors themselves but still have to pay these high prices to receive blood,” he complained.
NBSZ chief executive officer, Lucy Marowa agreed that the price of blood is high, but necessary. Marowa says this is because of the costs involved in processing raw blood from when it is donated to the stage when it will be transfused into the patient.
“The procedure involves taking blood from the donor and then processing it before giving it to the recipient. Preparing blood for safe transfusion is a very delicate procedure and has several stages employing various specialised personnel and machinery,” she said.
‘Whole blood’ or blood in original form as donated is separated into various components, preserved with different chemicals and processed in a very complicated procedure. During clinical blood production for transfusion, ‘frozen plasma’ is collected from the donated blood. This is used to correct deficiencies in clotting factors in patients with active bleeding. The plasma is kept at a low, specific temperature before it can be transfused it into a patient. It is then thawed at controlled temperatures and administered quickly in order to avoid the manifestation of bacteria.
Platelets are also isolated from red blood cells and other fluids in every unit of donated blood. This is done by centrifuging the blood within the closed collection system using specialised machines.
Marowa said before blood is processed, it has to undergo a number of laboratory tests to determine blood type for compatibility, screen for antibodies that may cause problems when transfused, and infectious agents like HIV. To avoid any compromises in machinery performance during maintenance, protocol for the reinstatement of equipment for future use should be put in place. The equipment used must be validated, cleaned, calibrated, and maintained in the most hygienic environments possible.
The NBSZ boss said most of the machines they use are expensive to repair when they break down. “Currently we do have some that aren’t working. 5 machines out of 7 of our core equipment are down and each of these cost more than $16,000 to repair,” she explained.
Image: Lab technicians processing blood.