Jocy Asio’s father paid Shs30,000 for petrol for an ambulance to rush the 19-year-old suffering from post-natal bleeding to Soroti Regional Referral Hospital only to be told there was no blood.
Ms Matilda Ondoru, a mother of a four-year-old child, sits helpless at Arua Regional Referral Hospital waiting to receive blood. She has been here three days already. “My four-year-old daughter was referred from a health centre to here but her condition keeps on deteriorating just like other children who also need blood at children’s ward,” she said.
The story of these parents is re-echoed across the country by several patients or parents in need of blood for their children. The country has in the last few weeks experienced a blood shortage. The Health ministry this week sent blood but for emergency cases only.
Less than one per cent of the population eligible to donate blood is doing so, which has led to the transfusion service collecting only 230 units of blood a year compared to the recommended 300,000 units by the World Health Organisation, according to the Uganda Blood Transfusion Service. This is at the core of the current blood shortage that has hit the country leaving many patients dead and many medical operations in hospitals halted.
At the age of 17, if a person is in good health, then they are eligible to donate blood. But many young people are not turning up for voluntary blood donation campaigns, part of the reason experts say is contributing to the current blood shortage. About 46 per cent of the population is aged 15 to 54 years, meaning that in effect only 17 million Ugandans are eligible to donate blood and of these, less than 170,000 actually do regularly donate blood.
Mr Michael Mukundane, the senior blood donor recruiter for the Uganda Blood Transfusion Service and also coordinator for the central region said 90 per cent of blood donors are secondary school students who are hard to reach during school holiday breaks. He said several people still have phobia for donating blood.
In the past three weeks, however, the blood shortage crisis has been aggravated by a shortage of reagents and kits to test the available blood. Although generally most hospitals always have inadequate blood supply, the past one month has been particularly most hit with hospitals reserving available blood for emergency cases only.
The Uganda Heart Institute for instance had to scale down its activities and postpone some scheduled heart surgeries due to blood scarcity. Although they have now resumed full operation, the Institutes’ director Dr John Omagino, said a backlog had been created, which they have to clear now that they have received blood.
Mr Mukundane said the institution gets only Shs7b instead of the Shs18b that they need to run their activities. As a result, outreach programmes are not optimal, human resource is constrained, testing kits, equipment and reagents run out.
Some corporate institutions like Car and General and Quality Chemicals have in the week stepped up blood donation drive but according to Mr Mukundane, their numbers are too few to generate significant units of blood. “Corporate companies usually come in to help and we are grateful but their numbers are too few. We encourage the entire public eligible, to give blood. You can even walk to any of our offices and give blood,” Mr Mukundane said.