It happened on a Sunday afternoon when I was truly bored and decided to honour an invitation by Wole Labiran, a friend of mine who directs a social enterprise, Irawo University Centre. Prior to this, I had been quite sceptical to visit Irawo, situated in Agbowo and a student residence of all places. What good can be expected in such a place, I thought? Least I lose track of my gist, the afternoon turned out to be very bloody. Dr Donald Dubre a staff of the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) was the guest speaker in an informal chat with some students of the University of Ibadan.
Dr Dubre is passionately in love with blood. He takes pride in his work of bleeding people in order to provide the blood indigence of Nigeria. The inability of our country to meet this demand has contributed greatly to the high infant mortality rates, as well as mortality associated with road traffic accidents and pregnancy-associated cases. The foregoing is the reason behind the drive of the NBTS to establish a centralised and effective blood transfusion service in Nigeria: with the aim of cultivating committed Nigerians (between the ages of 17 and 65) to donate every three months.
Unsafe blood, according to the blood doctor, is responsible for an estimated 10% prevalence of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Inappropriate screening of donor blood – which was sourced mostly from commercial donors – results in the increasing prevalence of other transfusion transmissible infections such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Syphilis in Nigeria. The current drive of the NBTS and its parent Ministry of Health is to combat the spread of these infections by encouraging non-remunerated, voluntary blood donations. “The unfortunate thing is that most of those who are willing to donate blood for a petite fee (between N1,500 to N2,000) are in most cases not safe donors. Our experience has showed that these paid donors have many blood infectious diseases”, Dubre noted.
The blood doctor further emphasised that: “the greatest challenge to the blood needs of Nigeria is to get voluntary donors. It is amazing the amount of opposition that one finds in the quest of getting blood. In most cases, those who are most difficult to convince are the supposed literate ones. The resistance to blood donation varies from one part of the country to another. In some places, people do not freely let go of their blood because of religious, cultural or superstitious beliefs. Some will actually accuse you of being a witch, who wants to use their blood for rituals. This is the reason why in the NBTS we have a team of professionals – haematologists, laboratory scientists, sociologists, etc – who are all committed to educating Nigerians on the advantages of donating freely.
Mid way into the Irawo Conversation, Gboyega Otolorin – 300 level student of Biochemistry in UI – made bold to inquire from the speaker on the safety implication for a willing donor. “One would not like to get infected with HIV all in the name of donating blood”, he said. To this Dr Dubre replied that, “you can be at ease, no one contacts any disease from donating blood. In fact this is one of the cardinal focuses of NBTS, to provide safe blood for both the donor and the recipient. For the donor, we use sterile equipment for bleeding. Besides we also do a series of tests before a donor is certified to donate. First, we do a haemoglobin (Hb) count to determine if the donor has enough red cells. Nonetheless, some people cannot donate despite their good will. For instance, we do not bleed pregnant women, those recuperating from an illness, sickle cell patients and the elderly.”
“How then do you induce voluntary blood donation? Bearing in mind that in this country, nothing goes for nothing,” was a query from Ayotunde Ajaiyeoba, a medical student. The blood doctor acknowledged that this was one of the challenges of seeking voluntary blood transfusion. Some hospitals also have some incentives for blood donors, like giving them some beverages after bleeding. He noted that they are evolving a scheme for those who donated frequently, so that if they (the donors) are ever in need of blood, they can always get one. “It will be better if we de-emphasis the need for compensation, because by donating blood you are saving a life somewhere. One day that life may be yours and you will be at the mercy of the generosity of other people to save your life. Besides, a willing donor is most likely to maintain a salubrious status. It is also healthy to donate blood frequently.” Dr Dubre spoke so eloquently, that at the end of the Irawo Conversations; he was able to persuade some voluntary donation from the audience, including yours sincerely.
By the end of the chat, my skepticism was replaced with admirable pride. Yes pride, because I saw that there is still hope for this country. The Irawo Conversations was a refreshing experience: from the professional blood sucker, who is keenly committed to his job; the audience made up of students who had converged to have an intellectual discussion and above all, the institution that made it possible. And to think that Irawo University Centre had been in existence since October 1973, managed by Nigerians and has not yet succumbed to the flu of inefficiency that seems to characterise anything Nigerian. What better way of advancing the much trumpeted Millennium Developmental Goals or is it Vision 2020?