THE issue of blood has become an emotive issue with Senate last week discussing a motion to call for more meaningful incentives to blood donors to ensure blood was adequately stocked at the National Blood Services Zimbabwe (NBSZ).
While some people claimed they have parted with $180 to purchase a pint of blood at hospitals, others claimed they paid as much as $300 for a pint.
People who donated blood in Zimbabwe have been awarded with nothing except a drink, buns and sweets.
A workmate whose relative was recently involved in a traffic accident said they had to fork out $580 for two pints of blood at a private hospital.
“My relative used to donate blood, but when he was involved in a traffic accident we (relatives) had to look for $580 urgently to pay for the blood,” said the workmate.
He said he did not understand why people who donated blood for free were themselves made to pay for it in cases of emergences like accidents.
“We were made to pay the fee first before the relative was treated and yet it was an emergency situation,” he said. Although people are turned away from some health institutions – and in cases where they urgently needed medical care — the new Constitution of Zimbabwe stipulates that no one should be denied medical treatment in emergency cases.
Section 29 (1) reads: “The State must take all practical measures to ensure the provision of basic, accessible and adequate health services throughout Zimbabwe; and in (2) it further states, “the State must take appropriate, fair and reasonable measures to ensure that no person is refused emergency medical treatment at any health institution.”
In Section 76 (1) the Constitution further says: “Every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has the right to have access to basic healthcare services, including reproductive health care services,” and in (2), “Every person living with a chronic illness has the right to have access to basic healthcare services for the illness, and in (3), “no person may be refused emergency medical treatment in any health care institution,” while (4) says, “the State must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources to it, to achieve the progressive realisation of the rights set out in this section.”
Despite what is envisaged by the new Constitution many Zimbabweans, especially those that lack financial resources continue to be denied medical care services.
During recent debate on a motion calling for provision of incentives to blood donors, mover of the motion Judith Mawire (Zanu PF Manicaland Senator) said incentives to blood donors were imperative to ensure more people came forward to donate blood given that the stocks were said to be dwindling.
Her arguments were that incidencies of road carnage were on the rise and this depleted blood reserves.
She recommended that NBSZ should provide reasonable incentives to blood donors to boost reserves and encourage blood donations.
“Many people might wonder why blood is becoming scarce in our country, but it is because of the ill treatment being given to volunteers who donate blood willingly. After such a huge sacrifice they are thanked with only two buns and a bottle of coca cola, which is truly unfair. When that same blood donor loses blood in a car accident or during child delivery, he or she is forced to buy supplementary blood at a higher cost, yet he/she donated it free of charge.
“Our society is made up of people — some of whom cannot afford to buy blood when tragedy occurs, and as a result people continue to die due to lack of funds to buy the blood. If blood donors are given incentives we will have more people wanting to donate blood and that will be a solution to problems being encountered today in the health sector. It is not pleasant at all for the country to be found importing blood because of its scarcity,” Mawire said.
Seconder of the motion Tapera Machingaifa (Zanu PF Mashonaland West senator) said there were allegations that semen was also being sold at hospitals and he queried why blood donors were not paid by hospitals for donations.
“Maybe this could be just rumour mongering, but semen is being sold and people get money for it. Now, if semen is sold to hospitals, then blood should be given for free and not sold at a high price. If people who donate blood are paid, they will be motivated to be blood donors,” he said.
Another senator Rorana Muchihwa (MDC-T Harare Metropolitan) claimed school children who made up the majority of blood donors were running away from the activity because they were given just an orange after donating blood, while MDC-T Matabeleland South senator Sithembile Mlotshwa claimed some school children were given lollipop sweets after donating blood.
“If donating blood is now a business, then Senate should agree on how it should be sold because it is like selling part of your body. If the government wants the blood, then it should be taken for free and donated to all government hospitals and be used for free without payment. The person who is donating should be given an option to choose whether they want to give it to government hospitals or private hospitals,” Mlotshwa said.
Other arguments by Masvingo senator Misheck Marava (MDC-T) were that whenever the NBSZ approached school children for blood donations, chiefs and other authorities should be informed in case a problem occurred.
“In rural areas, we find that when the NBSZ comes to collect blood, they do not inform the chiefs and if someone falls sick or becomes anaemic after donating blood, the problem will be faced by the parents and teachers. For the sake of courtesy the collectors of blood should inform the chief that they are operating at their area collecting blood.”
Marava recounted that at one time he lost a relative at Chitungwiza Hospital due to lack of blood as he failed to raise the amount needed for treatment.
“The patient’s relatives would have donated blood elsewhere, but the patient does not get blood when they need it because they cannot pay cash up-front. We need tokens of appreciation to blood donors because NBSZ is a business which gets blood for free and yet they sell it. In the process there is somebody who gets cheated and we need to take steps to rectify this anomaly,” he said. Annah Shiri a Senator representing people living with disabilities who herself was involved in a car accident and lost one of her legs said it was imperative to encourage people to donate blood.
“When I was involved in an accident I had no blood in my system and my friends and relatives came to make donations. As you know these days, before your blood can be given to anyone it has to be examined to check for deadly viruses.
“I had eight pints of blood injected into me and that is how I survived. Blood is a problem and it is expensive. I have encouraged members of my family to be blood donors because I am living evidence of someone who survived because of blood donations.”
Shiri said it was imperative for people to be informed about the importance of donating blood as it was life saving.
“The cost of blood should be scrutinised. Yes, we know that there are lots of processes which the blood undergoes, but we are saying its cost should not be too high,” Shiri said.
Others like MDC Bulawayo Metropolitan senator Dorothy Tholakele Khumalo suggested the Health and Child Care ministry should be responsible for educating people about the importance of blood.
According to MDC-T Midlands Senator Lilian Timveos some people were afraid to donate blood for fear of contracting the HIV virus in the process.
“I am one of the people who were diagnosed with cancer and I did not have enough blood. Every Friday I would go for chemotherapy and I also had a blood transfusion. I did not know whose blood I got and I vowed that in my life I wanted to be a blood donor.
“The Health and Child Care ministry should come up with an arrangement so that people who are in need of blood are attended to and pay later. We should scrutinise and find out why blood is expensive because people are afraid of contracting the HIV virus during transfusion. NBTS should do awareness programmes on blood.”
When the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care chaired by MDC-T legislator Ruth Labode interrogated the issues of the high cost of blood recently, NBSZ chief executive officer David Mvere said they were forced to charge cash upfront for supplies of blood after a near-collapse of their organisation.
Mvere told the committee that they sold a unit of blood to health institutions at $133 before major health centres put their own price mark ups, pushing the prices to between $194 and $200 per unit.
The committee was also told that hospitals owed the NBSZ $1 million for blood. Mvere said although they received blood from donors for free, his organisation incurred costs in preparing the blood to ensure it was free from HIV 1 and 2, hepatitis B and C and syphilis.
The committee was also told that 40% of blood transfusions were done following birth complications, 25% during treatment of children and 35% in surgery and trauma.
On claims that people who donated blood were charged for accessing it during transfusion, Mvere said people who had donated blood over 10 times accessed it for free if they, or any member of their families required blood transfusion.
According to the NBSZ website, blood went through a number of processes after it was donated, hence the high costs.
They said donating blood was a ‘safe, simple and rewarding experience that usually takes 40 to 60 minutes. The donation itself is only about 10 minutes.’
The NBSZ said they would also require basic health information about the donor during registration.
“During pre-donation screening, a blood bank employee will ask you some questions about your health, lifestyle and disease risk factors. All this information is confidential. You will have your weight and blood pressure checked. A drop of blood from your finger will also be tested to ensure that your blood iron level is sufficient before you donate. All medical equipment used for this test as well as during the donation process is sterile, used only once and then disposed,” the NBSZ said.
Deputy Health and Child Care minister Paul Chimedza was recently challenged by MDC-T Bulawayo Metropolitan senator Matson Hlalo to explain why people were still made to pay cash up-front at emergency units when the constitution stipulated everyone should be treated, especially on emergences.
Chimedza said while it was a constitutional right to access medical health care, and was government policy for both government and public institutions, it was impossible at this moment to subsidise health care. He said if blood was not charged, it would also put a strain on the NBSZ which required money to do tests on the blood it received and storage purposes.
“Most people in emergences require blood. The situation at the moment is that we have NBSZ that requires a budget of $6 000 000 every year for them to provide blood for free. However, for
the past year they have not received that money. So, we have two choices; to get the blood that is left and give everyone for free and close the NBSZ or we can make sure that the blood that is there is paid for and ensure the NBSZ remains open,” he said.
According to Chimedza, currently a pint of blood costs $180 and government could only afford free blood for mothers delivering at hospitals.