Haematologist: Venezuelans not eligible to donate blood for one year

Deputy Dean of Grad­u­ate Stud­ies and Re­search Con­sul­tant Haema­tol­o­gist Dr Ken­neth Charles has ad­mit­ted that Venezue­lans who come to T&T to work would not be el­i­gi­ble to do­nate blood for one year.

Charles, a se­nior lec­tur­er, made the com­ment on Tues­day at his Er­ic Williams Med­ical Sci­ences Com­plex, Mt Hope, of­fice in re­sponse to a T&T Guardian ar­ti­cle pub­lished last Fri­day head­lined “Venezue­lans can give blood too- NCRHA head.”

In the ar­ti­cle, North Cen­tral Re­gion­al Health Au­thor­i­ty (NCRHA) CEO Davlin Thomas stat­ed that Venezue­lan na­tion­als can do­nate blood which would have to be test­ed.

Thomas made the state­ment fol­low­ing a World Blood Donor Day sym­po­sium ti­tled Safe Blood For All, host­ed by UWI’s Fac­ul­ty of Med­ical Sci­ences in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the NCRHA.

The ar­ti­cle al­so re­port­ed that though 65,000 units of blood are re­quired an­nu­al­ly, there was a short­age of 22 units, which Charles said was in­cor­rect.

“As far as a trans­fu­sion ser­vice goes, I think peo­ple are el­i­gi­ble to do­nate (blood) ir­re­spec­tive of their na­tion­al­i­ty and so on. But there are spe­cif­ic do­na­tions el­i­gi­bil­i­ty cri­te­ria that must be con­sid­ered. As far as South and Cen­tral Amer­i­ca go there is this in­fec­tion that is spread by a bug and a mite and it is called Cha­gas dis­ease that is en­dem­ic in these ar­eas.”

If a per­son is ex­posed to the dis­ease, Charles said it can be trans­mit­ted in a blood trans­fu­sion.

“The tests for ex­po­sure do not nec­es­sar­i­ly be­come pos­i­tive be­fore six months,” Charles ex­plained.

Charles said the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) has rec­om­mend­ed that peo­ple from South and Cen­tral Amer­i­ca who vis­it an­oth­er coun­try should be de­ferred from do­nat­ing blood.

He said an­oth­er sci­en­tif­ic fact was that coun­tries in which malar­ia are preva­lent are al­so in­clud­ed in the re­fer­ral list.

Coun­tries in which malar­ia is preva­lent, Charles said are al­so in­clud­ed on the de­fer­ral list.

Venezuela is lo­cat­ed on the north­ern coast of South­ern Amer­i­ca has seen a re­cent spike in malar­ia cas­es.

Last year, there was al­so an out­break of the Cha­gas dis­ease in the Tachi­ra state of Venezuela which left five peo­ple dead and 40 oth­ers were sus­pect­ed to have con­tract­ed the dis­ease.

De­spite hav­ing a suc­cess­ful malar­ia con­trol in the past, the col­lapse of Venezuela’s econ­o­my and health care sys­tem has sparked a resur­gence of the mos­qui­to borne in­fec­tious dis­ease.

In 2018, Venezue­lans had re­port­ed 1.3 mil­lion malar­ia cas­es.

WHO al­so stat­ed that be­tween 2010 and 2017, Venezuela wit­nessed a nine fold in­crease of the num­ber of con­firmed cas­es of malar­ia climb­ing to 412,000.

Asked if Venezue­lans who re­cent­ly reg­is­tered in T&T would be in a po­si­tion to do­nate blood af­ter the stip­u­lat­ed time, Charles said the Na­tion­al Blood Trans­fu­sion Ser­vice would be in a bet­ter po­si­tion to an­swer that ques­tion.

Charles, a for­mer di­rec­tor of the Na­tion­al Blood Trans­fu­sion Ser­vice, said the short­fall of blood units in T&T was not 22 but in­stead “22,000.”

WHO rec­om­mends that 65,000 units should be col­lect­ed each year to meet the coun­try’s trans­fu­sion re­quire­ments.

How­ev­er, about 20,000 units of blood are do­nat­ed an­nu­al­ly in T&T which ac­counts for about one third of blood need­ed to help save lives. A de­pend­able and con­sis­tent sup­ply is need­ed for al­most every area of med­ical prac­tice, rang­ing from sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dures to treat­ment of pa­tients with blood dis­or­ders.

“The blood do­na­tion rates in the coun­try are very low com­pared to what is rec­om­mend­ed,” said Charles, the chair­man of UWI’s Blood Donor Foun­da­tion.

A healthy per­son is el­i­gi­ble to be a vol­un­tary blood donor if she/he is be­tween the ages 18 to 65 and weighs more than 110 pounds.

Blood can be do­nat­ed at the coun­try’s six blood do­na­tion cen­tres.

Charles said if there are suf­fi­cient vol­un­tary non-re­mu­ner­at­ed blood donors (VN­RBDs) “there would be no mar­ket for touts,” who some­times op­er­ate out­side of blood banks.

VN­RBDs are in­di­vid­u­als who give their blood freely with­out pay­ment or right to re­claim one’s do­na­tion.

It has been re­port­ed that touts who fre­quent blood banks sell their blood up­ward of $500 a pint.

Blood is al­so ob­tained through Fam­i­ly /Re­place­ment (F/R) donor prac­tices com­pul­so­ry or forced do­na­tion.

Charles said sur­veys have shown that young peo­ple be­tween the ages 18 to 25 do­nate the least amount of blood, with women do­nat­ing the ma­jor­i­ty.

- by Shaliza Hassanali

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