COVID-19 has plunged Trinidad and Tobago into a crisis where patients who require blood are dying because of a shortage.
However, the Society for Inherited and Severe Blood Disorders says donations are rising after health authorities collected around 9,000 units in 2021. The World Health Organisation’s recommended target is between 65,000-70,000 units per year for T&T.
The society’s Public Relations Officer, Kieron Blackman, says before COVID-19, blood donations averaged between 20,000-22,000 units per year but lockdowns in 2020 caused a significant decrease in donations. Then, the Blood Bank and others had to develop ways to carry out blood donations safely.
The society represents people with inherited blood disorders like Sickle Cell Anemia and Thalassemia, haemophilia and von Willebrand disease. Sickle Cell Anemia and Thalassemia are conditions where people have low haemoglobin counts, resulting in low blood oxygen levels. Hemophilia and von Willebrand are bleeding disorders and people with these conditions suffer haemorrhaging with minor cuts or could have internal bleeding at any time. As a result, these people require different blood products frequently from the Blood Bank.
“What we recognised as frequent users of that facility over the years, is that Trinidad has a bit of a blood crisis where people, let us say a patient who is transfusion-dependent who may need blood one to two times per month, has great difficulty in getting it and sometimes can only get one pint of blood per month. Sometimes, the patients who need blood in emergencies are unable to get the blood. We had patients who died in the past because they were unable to get blood,” Blackman said.
Donations improved slightly in 2021 and the society now allows people to book appointments using Google Forms, so it staggers people coming to donate. It creates a safer environment following the public health protocols. Even when people go to donate, there is another issue — the prevalence of non-communicable diseases. When staff screen potential donors, they sometimes find people with high blood pressure and uncontrolled diabetes, which rules them out.
Then there is the issue of T&T’s high rate of bloodshed. Blackman said emergency rooms at hospitals have a huge demand for blood and a person haemorrhaging on an operating table takes precedence over a Beta-Thalassemia patient on a ward.
Someone with Beta-Thalassemia has a critical issue, where their blood is not producing regular haemoglobin, so their blood count would be lower than most people. It results in patients feeling severely fatigued and without timely transfusion, their bones can swell. Children also suffer slow growth and jaundice.
The Blood Society has over 200 members but Blackman estimates between 2000-3000 people live with blood disorders. Not all require a frequent blood transfusion but some children get repeated strokes without it. Blackman said a three-year-old child suffered three strokes in a year and the only way to prevent it was regular blood transfusions.
“Because of these critical issues, sometimes you find these patients, unfortunately, may meet their demise in their mid-forties and fifties.”
The society completed a blood drive last Saturday. It is currently holding another in San Fernando. Anyone willing to donate can register on the Society’s Facebook page. There are upcoming drives in Arima in April, in May for World Thalassemia Day and World Blood Donor Day in June.
Blackman said the best benefit of donating one unit of blood is that it can save three lives, as a laboratory separates it into red blood cells, plasma and palettes. Donating blood also causes people to shed calories and excess iron and helps reduce blood pressure.