HOW TO BE A HERO IN COVID-19.

By Dr. Janet Maranga.

You can save a dying mother, a child and even yourself, during this pandemic.

These are indeed trying times for Kenya and the entire world, as we face the COVID-19 pandemic. Ever since the first confirmed positive case in Kenya, the impact has been immense, and specifically to the health sector.

In the case of blood services in Kenya, the situation has gone from bad to worse. The need for blood did not simply go away when the virus was reported. We already had a 70% deficit from our annual 500,000 blood units target, before COVID-19. This is according to the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service (KNBTS).

After the virus was reported, the Government, in responding to the situation, put in place various obligatory measures. These measures, unfortunately, further constrained blood services. For example, the closure of schools, restricted movement and social distancing, led to significant drops in blood donations.

It is now difficult to reach school children for blood donations, given that they are at home. Adults, the traditional ‘second option’, are also no longer going to blood drives, due to the ban on mass gatherings. Hospital based blood donations have also not been spared, owing to the growing misconception, that hospitals are the most likely of places for one to contract the virus.

The misconception could be in part fueled by the fact that healthcare workers are on the frontline against COVID-19. This thereby makes them the most vulnerable to both contract and transfer the virus.

While all this is happening, we had and continue to have delivering mothers, oncology, and anemic patients among others, all of whom direly need blood. If anything, the need for blood is now greater than ever, given the constant if not increased demand, and the seriously plummeting supply.

There has actually been a number of reported cases of maternal deaths due to shortage of blood. As well, there may be numerous unreported cases pertaining to blood shortages in hospitals, as the primary focus right now is on managing the pandemic.

How can you help? You can donate blood today. It is a minutes’ worth of effort to save lives. This is how you become a hero in COVID-19.

Is it still safe to donate blood? Yes, it is. It has never been safer. This is in part due to the fact that handwashing, social distancing and wearing of masks, are now a part of our daily lives. These not only protect you from COVID-19, but also other various infections such as the flu or the common cold.

In addition, hospitals and other blood donation centres, are now making it possible for willing donors to schedule their blood donation appointments both online and via advance calling. The good news is that each appointment slot can only take in a limited number of donors, in line with both social distancing requirements and resource capacity. This is really helping to avoid crowds and helps to ensure that donors do not stay unnecessarily long at the donation site.

Also, according to the current World Health Organization (WHO) protocols, admissions to venues, including hospitals and other blood donation centres, are strictly reserved for the following persons:

  1. Those who wash / sanitize their hands;
  2. Those wearing masks;
  3. Those with normal temperature (< 37.50C);
  4. Those that do not and have not had either a cough, fever, sore throat, runny nose, headache, tight chest or difficulty in breathing within the last 28 days, even without knowingly being in contact with a positive person;
  5. Those who haven’t been in contact/cared for/lived with a known COVID-19 positive person within the last 28 days;
  6. Those who haven’t travelled in the last 28 days within/outside the country to areas with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and,
  7. Those that are not recovering or have recovered from COVID-19 in the last 28 days.

The above applies to the blood donor services staff as well. This way, you can be at least certain that you will not catch COVID-19, at the blood donation centre.

You will also be a hero by honestly answering all of the questions that you will be asked by the blood donor services staff, all according to the set standards and guidelines. This is because some of the questions are designed to establish whether you are at risk of contracting COVID-19. The reason for this is that there is currently no lab test that has been licensed for screening blood for COVID-19. In fact, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) does not recommend such screening of donor blood meant for patients.

In addition, as we have seen from our country’s statistics, more than 80% of COVID-19 positive patients have no symptoms. This supports the belief that there could be asymptomatic people voluntarily donating blood without knowing they are infected. The SARS-COV2 genetic material (RNA) has actually been found in the blood of some blood donors in Chinese studies. While this does not confirm the virus, meaning it may not actually be infectious, there still remains the theoretical risk of transmitting the virus through a blood transfusion. However, so far, there has been no documented nor reported case of a transfusion transmitted infection.

If infected, the only current option is to treat the donated blood with certain solvents or ultraviolet light, so as to destroy any viruses present in the blood. However, this technology is quite expensive and is not presently available locally. Therefore, by answering correctly, you help the blood services staff make appropriate decisions that will end up saving lives, including yours.

It is also important to call the hospital or blood donation centre immediately you either test positive for COVID-19, or begin experiencing related symptoms after the blood donation exercise. This will help them quarantine your blood before it is given to an innocent patient. You might also be called by the hospital or blood donation centre within 14 days just to ascertain how you are feeling after the donation exercise, as part of the safety guidelines and procedures, for both the patient’s sake and yours.

In conclusion, all these measures are meant to keep you safe. Therefore, there is no need to continue

hesitating to go save lives. At least 1 Kenyan needs blood every minute. What are you waiting for? One unit can save up to 4 lives depending on the products prepared from it. So, go save humanity, and remember join on the celebrations for the World Donor Day, coming up on the 14th of June 2020.

Dr. Janet Maranga is a Clinical Pathologist at the Gertrude’s Garden Children’s Hospital.

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