The cost of blood and blood products worrisome

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Johannes Marisa

COVID-19 talk subdued all other medical issues since the beginning of the year. The virus is still tearing the world and in terms of daily deaths, it seems to be constant since March 2020 where more than 5 000 people die everyday.

It is sad that Brazil continues to lose more than 1 000 lives daily to coronavirus while India appears to be the next epicentre after South America. Africa remains relatively safe but events in South Africa should be a signal that disaster is still ahead and, therefore, it is my prayer that we remain alert and focused as a nation.

Tuesday 23 June saw South Africa losing 111 people to COVID-19. It’s a terrifying moment for all of us.

Sadly, the developments at home make for even sadder reading, namely the cost of blood.

Blood is one of the most important medical products. Many people have been saved from death by blood transfusion. This is common on victims of accidents who would have lost significant volumes of blood, patients who are undergoing major surgeries with a potential to bleed, post-natal mothers who experience post-partum haemorrhage.

Blood loss may culminate in anaemia which can be a life-threatening condition if severe. Signs and symptoms of anaemia include tiredness, dizziness, generalised body weakness, cold peripheries, pallor to mention but a few.

Organ damage like heart failure can arise as a result of anaemia.
Usually when the haemoglobin level is less than 6g/dl, one is expected to have blood transfusion except when there are serious reasons against the process. Some have religious beliefs against blood transfusion.

Many people have remained mum on the latest developments around blood and blood products. The new pricing structure seems out of reach for many.

We all know that blood goes through a lot of processes from the time it is collected from donors to the time it is transfused to patient.

A lot of screening is done especially for stubborn diseases like Syphilis, Hepatitis, HIV/Aids so that there is no horizontal transmission to the recipients.

All these processes including packaging and storage involve a lot of costs and I personally sympathise with the National Blood Services of Zimbabwe (NBSZ) which has tried to keep itself afloat during this difficult time of COVID-19 where the traditional donors are shut out from institutions like schools, colleges or universities.

There has been a new price structure announced recently which sees one unit of blood being sold for at least $10 000.

In majority of patients who need blood, at least two units are required and that automatically translates to $20 000.

We have to be worried as a nation because almost 90% of the population cannot afford to purchase just two units of blood to save life. It is thus judicious as a nation that we take such issues earnestly if we are to boast of a viable health delivery system.

It is disconcerting to ask a patient, especially in the high-density suburbs, to raise a ridiculously-high figure like $30 000 just for 3 units of the special medical product.

The price is very much unfortunate considering that very few people earn a salary of more than $20 000. This shows that a doctor working iat a public hospital may not afford even a single unit of blood.

While clinicians are known to save people in times of illnesses, it is disgusting to note that they cannot save themselves in times of need.

Something ought to be done as a matter of urgency if our health system is to remain capacitated.

Tackling the blood price issues requires a multi-pronged approach that should involve all the stakeholders in the health system. So many strategies can be employed in order to come up with a win-win situation that keeps patients safe while maintaining the NBSZ’s life. The following strategies can be considered:

  • Government, through the Health ministry, can subsidise blood and blood products so that the cost is not entirely met by the patient since its not affordable. It is prudent to consider this option as a matter of urgency.
  • Inviting serious donors who would wholeheartedly assist NBSZ financially so that the organisation’s operating costs are minimal.
  • If this is done at high echelons of government, it will be easy to raise the required money in few days. All of us may one day require blood for transfusion.
  • Church organisations can chip in with donations.
  • Pool funding where funds can be raised at once in order to capacitate NBSZ. All this should be done so that the overall cost of processing blood is kept low hence low cost for the recipient. It is possible to determine our fate as a nation. Together, we will manage. It needs you and me!

Dr Johannes Marisa is a medical practitioner, a Public Health practitioner who writes in his personal capacity. He can be accessed on doctormarisa@gmail.com