NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 14 – What would you feel if someone told you your blood saved a life somewhere?
Donating blood can easily be mistaken as a small gesture, but it is a noble idea that all and sundry should embrace.
And as Caleb Omullo puts it, many Kenyans are not aware of the importance of donating blood and only do it when their relatives are in need.
“Not many understand that they can just pop into a center and donate blood, and even though a lot of awareness is being raised, many are yet to understand the importance,” says Omullo.
“I became a donor in 2005, but the story was rather interesting. My friend fell sick and had to be admitted to Kenyatta National Hospital and he required blood. Nobody was ready to give him blood, and that is when I realised the importance of saving someone’s life with a pint of blood,” says Omullo.
Omullo who is physically challenged says he was afraid to undertake the exercise, but decided to give it a shot and save a friend.
Having a firsthand experience on what on the fears of donating blood, Omullo joined Hope Worldwide Kenya as volunteer. The organization recruits blood donors through mobile outreach sessions in the city as well as other regions across the country.
Omullo is now a regular blood donor and donates blood voluntarily every three months.
As Kenya and the rest of the world marks the World Blood Donor Day under the theme “Every blood donor is a hero”, Omullo stands out as a true hero for his efforts to donate blood and save lives. This year’s theme seeks to recognize donors who are saving lives by replenishing the blood banks.
Every year on June 14, countries worldwide mark the day by carrying out events to raise awareness of the need for safe blood and blood products and to recognize regular blood donors for their life-saving gifts of blood. This year, the global event is taking place in South Korea.
The theme seeks to show that everyone can be a hero by donating blood. While recognizing the silent and unsung heroes who save lives every day through their blood donations, the theme also strongly encourages more people to become regular blood donors.
Just like many other countries, Kenya continues to lose lives due to inability to raise enough blood to meet the needs of needy patients. Many people opt to donate blood when there is a dire need to help a relative or in the case of a disaster. However, such efforts often come when it is too late, leading to loss of lives.
According to the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Services (KNBTS),the country needs at least 200,000 units of blood every year but only 125,000 units are collected yearly, leaving a deficit of 75,000 units of blood.
“People need to be sensitized and educated on the importance of donating blood. It is a simple procedure and it is healthy to donate blood,” says James Mwangi, an official with KNBTS.
When it comes to donating blood, it is recommended that one must weigh at least 50 kg and should be between ages 16-65.
Currently, the country has six regional blood transfusion centers which are supported by nine satellite centers.
Efforts to encourage more people to donate blood regularly have been hampered by the fact that there are many cultural beliefs and myths associated with blood donation.
“There is a lot of misinformation when it comes to blood donation. In my case, some people wondered why as a physically challenged person would donate blood. Some of these myths are retrogressive and people need to consider the positive aspect of donating blood,” says Omullo.
Rex Mpazanje, World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Kenya, says more heroes need to stand out by donating blood regularly as a way of making blood readily available for those in need.
“The current percentage of the population that donates blood regularly stands at 0.3 percent which is way below the 1 percent target. If 1 percent of the population will donate blood then there will be enough to meet the country’s needs,” says Mpazanje.
He further says that there is a need for people to form voluntary blood club donations among various social settings to ensure that there is enough blood in the blood banks.