Festive giving: Blood donation, ultimate gift of the Festive Season


What is a special present that could come only from you? You may not have thought of this: The greatest gift you can give another human is, literally, life.

Donating blood even once can help save the lives of three people –whether they’re newborns needing heart surgery, adults badly injured in car crashes, or people of any age suffering from cancer.

If you already donate, you probably know how important it is. If you don’t donate, you’re hardly alone.

Who Gives?

Studies show that the primary motivation for people who donate blood every year is altruism, while the primary hurdle for those who don’t is inconvenience.

Yet most communities offer places to give blood, and the whole procedure takes less than an hour.

Those who have never donated cite the risk of HIV/AIDS as their primary concern.

But “people cannot get a disease from giving blood,” Medical technologist at NamBTS, Uvatera Tjitendero Gowases says.

The Namibian Blood Donation Services (NamBTS) is the only authorised blood donation service provider in the country.

“The staff use a new, sterile needle on each donor and immediately dispose of it after they draw the blood,” adds Gowases.

Am I Eligible?

In general, you are eligible if you are 16 and older, weigh more than 50kg, and don’t have AIDS or other transmissible diseases.

Some conditions may also make you temporarily ineligible, including pregnancy, low iron level, and high or low blood pressure problems.

One may not donate within four months of getting a tattoo, six months of having a major operation and seven days of taking anti-biotics. One also cannot donate within 56 days of a donation to allow the body to recover.

Blood donations are needed all year, but they’re most critical during holidays. “That’s when we see the most trauma,” Gowases says, “and when donors are unavailable, due to vacation schedules, illness, or inclement weather.”

In April this year, with more holidays, car accidents and stabbings, there were 400 fewer donations than the regular average monthly 2000 units. 0.8% of the Namibian population regularly donates blood.

The Process

Long before transfusion, the blood is collected into a 450ml bag that has an anticoagulant solution to prevent the blood from clotting and the cells from dying.

Gowases explains that three products are extracted for the use of transfusion, namely plasma, red blood cells and platelets which will then be given to patients based on the particular need.

“In order to separate these three components in the blood, we have to put the blood unit into a special spinning machine that gives 3266 rotations per minute.

This results in the separation of the three components. Plasma lasts up to 12 months and that is why we cannot use it until the donor comes back to donate again in order to allow us to redo tests,” she tells Us.

Platelets, which are the most in demand last only five days and cannot be kept stationary and therefore have to be kept at 20-24 degrees Celsius in a platelet incubator. Red blood cells can last 37-42 days.

With such a rigorous process and blood constantly in demand from hospitals there is always the risk of an HIV+ positive donor giving their blood unbeknownst to them.

Titus Shivute, Educational Officer at NamBTS, explains that, “Unlike centers such as New Start which use a rapid HIV test, which may require three to four months to positively detect HIV in the bloodstream, we use nucleus acid test which picks up the genetic material of the virus, meaning we can pick up the virus within a few days even if it was only very recently contracted,” he says.

If a donor’s blood unit is found to be HIV positive, they are contacted and offered counselling however the blood unit is discarded.

Plasma units that have not been transfused within a year, on the chance that the donor does not return, are also discarded with Rent-a-Drum services.

Of course, before this, donors go through a pre-screen questionnaire to find out more about their lifestyle and legibility to donate. Hemoglobin levels should be at 12.5 g/dL.

“Plasma recovers within a day if you regularly take fluids after donating.

Red blood cells take up to three-five weeks while the lost iron in the blood takes up to six-eight weeks to recover and that is how we came up with the 56-day waiting period.

You have to be between 16-65 to donate and weigh 50Kg.” O- is considered the universal blood type that is given in emergencies as anyone can receive it.

It is the neonatal blood meaning newborns can get it. AB is the rarest of the blood types.

Once units are processed and cleared they are taken to blood banks and the various Namibian Institute of Pathology (NIP) centers across the country to await orders from hospitals.

“We have four fix sites in the country, in Oshakati, Swakop and two in Windhoek. 60% of our donors are from schools and tertiary institutions but it becomes a challenge during the festive periods because these institutions will be closed. We encourage people to donate and give special recognition to those who given often. We have rewards for those who get to their 50th donation for example.” Shivute says.

So whether there’s more people unwell or too many people boozing (and forgetting) all we know is that the NamBTS needs your help. What can you do? Make a donation.

10 reasons to donate blood:

1. It will allow someone to live a full and active life. Donating blood to someone can save their life and not just in emergency situations.

Your red blood cells can also help people undergoing long-term treatment for cancer and blood diseases, as well as for treating anaemia and in certain operations.

2. One day this could be you

Over 25% of us will need blood at least once over our lifetime.

Whether it’s during childhood, an accident or cancer treatment there’s a decent chance that at some point in your life you will need blood too.

3. It’s safe and healthy!

Don’t worry, donating blood is completely safe! Everything is cleaned and sterilised and they are plenty of trained medical professions on hand to carry this out.

They will only take about one pint of blood which your body can replace in a flash.

4. Your plasma can provide a world of nutrients One of the main components of your blood is plasma. This provides proteins, nutrients and a clotting agent that is necessary to stop bleeding. So rest assure – nothing is ever wasted.

5. Help people in their fight against cancer

Platelets are tiny cells that can help people undergoing cancer treatment regain their strength, fight infections and make a quick and smooth recovery. Give them a helping hand.

6. Each donation you give can help up to three people. Now, that’s a donation worth giving!

7. Blood has a shelf life

Did you know someone needs blood every two seconds? Keeping up with demand is far from easy, especially because our blood has an expiry date.

Here’s the blood’s shelf-life:

Red cells: Up to 37-42 days

Plasma: Up to one year

Platelets: Up to five days

To add to the problem…

8. There are 8 different blood types

So maintaining sufficient stock isn’t always easy either.  Donate blood and find out which blood type you are! Interesting fact:

‘O’ is a particularly special blood type because it is the only type that can be given to anyone and everyone! Aren’t you wondering which one you are?

9. You can do it on your lunch break

The process only takes 30 minutes. No excuse ladies.

10. Get a free mini check-up!

Not only will you be helping save lives but you’ll also get your blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and iron levels checked. Not a bad deal, right?

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