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By Foluke Akinwalere. Freelance Health Writer and DLHA volunteer. With medical review and editorial support by the DLHA Team.
Blood bag hooked on a stand with the donor lying on a couch in the background.
Blood transfusion is a life-saving medical procedure involving transferring blood or blood components from one person (the donor) to another (the receiver in need). It has been a medical marvel, a beacon of hope, and a cornerstone of healthcare for generations. For Africans, awareness and understanding of the intricacies of this life-saving procedure is not just a matter of knowledge but a potential key to survival.
This article aims to provide you with clear information about blood transfusion, including what it is, when to have and not have it, how it’s given, potential risks, and its invaluable benefits. It also highlights the objections that some Africans have to blood transfusion. So, let’s dive in!
Blood transfusion is a critical medical procedure that involves the intravenous transfer of blood or specific blood components from a healthy donor to a recipient in need. It’s an intricate process that entails meticulous screening of donors and rigorous compatibility testing to ensure the safety of both the recipient and the integrity of the donated blood.
Blood is not just a single entity but is composed of different components, each with its unique role. They include:
According to the WHO, the African Region faces a high demand for blood transfusion due to bleeding related to pregnancy and childbirth, high prevalence of malaria with the attendant complication of severe malaria anaemia, high rates of road traffic accidents and other types of injury as well as other blood transfusion indications.
Blood transfusion has multiple indications that can be categorised into two major groups:
In cases of acute and severe blood loss, blood transfusion is vital to replenish lost blood volume, restore the body’s oxygen-carrying capacity, and stabilise the patient.
Chemotherapy drugs can affect healthy cells in the blood and bone marrow, leading to decreased blood cell counts. This condition causes anaemia and may require blood transfusions.
Blood transfusion, while a life-saving intervention, may not be suitable for everyone. Understanding when you should not have blood transfusion (i.e., contraindications) is important to ensuring your safety and well-being. Here are some key situations when you should not have a blood transfusion:
- Individual with severe heart or lung condition
- Those with a history of severe transfusion reactions
- Patients with specific metabolic disorders
They need careful consideration before receiving a transfusion.
The process of how blood transfusion is given is a precise and regulated series of steps.
Payment for blood donations are not accepted by most institutions.
Donors go through a thorough screening to guarantee that their blood is infection-free and suitable for transfusion. This involves reviewing their medical history, assessing the risk of transmitting infections, and performing blood tests.
Donors are also asked to sign an Informed Consent Form attesting to their free will to donate blood and their clear awareness of any potential risks involved.
WHO also makes it mandatory that all donated blood should be screened for HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and syphilis. The collected blood would be typed and may be divided into different components (i.e., packed red cells, platelets, plasma, etc,) based on the needs of the patient.
After a donor is approved, blood collection begins using sterile needles to extract whole blood.
Examining the receiver’s medical background, including the purpose of the transfusion and any previous responses to blood products
Identifying the necessary blood components based on the receiver's s medical situation. For instance, a patient with severe anaemia may need red blood cells, while someone with a bleeding disorder may require platelets
This careful evaluation ensures that the transfusion is not only safe but also tailored to the receiver’s specific requirements.
Before transfusion is started, the nurse or doctor who will set it up will obtain an Informed Consent from the receiver for both the procedure and the transfusion.
The Informed Consent is an attestation of the receiver's acceptance to receive the blood transfuion based on the needs and a clear awareness of and agreement with any potential risks involved as explained by the healthcare provider.
Furthermore the healthcare provider will check that the receiver’s blood group and personal identifiers (i.e. patient ID) matches all the identifiers coded on the blood bag obtained from the blood bank from where the blood is supplied. This check ensures that the right blood is transfused to the right receiver.
Throughout the transfusion, healthcare providers must closely monitor the receiver’s vital signs, including blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen levels, to ensure safety and responsiveness. The transfusion rate is also adjusted as needed to prevent complications, such as circulatory overload. In addition, healthcare providers maintain meticulous records of the transfusion process, including the type and volume of blood products administered and any adverse reactions or symptoms.
Blood transfusion, while life-saving, comes with potential risks that healthcare professionals carefully manage to ensure patient safety. In the African context, several risks are important to consider:
Blood transfusion can provide several benefits:
In Africa, objections to blood transfusion often arise from cultural and religious beliefs, presenting unique challenges in healthcare. Understanding and addressing these objections are crucial for providing effective and respectful medical care.
Some communities hold traditional beliefs about blood, considering it sacred or imbued with spiritual significance. The introduction of foreign blood may clash with these cultural norms.
Also, many religions, including certain sects of Christianity, Islam, and Jehova’s Witnesses, have specific teachings regarding the sanctity of blood. Devotees may object to transfusions based on religious principles.
Yes, many individuals can donate blood. To be accepted to donate, you need to be in good health, meet age and weight requirements, and have no history of infections such as hepatitis A, HIV, etc.
Before blood donation, it is advisable to have a balanced meal, especially iron-rich foods; stay well-rested and hydrated. Also, avoid alcohol.
It depends on the medication. Some medications may disqualify you temporarily, while others may not affect your eligibility. Discuss your medications with the healthcare provider during the screening.
Yes, donated blood undergoes rigorous screening for infections, ensuring a safe blood supply. Healthcare facilities adhere to strict safety protocols to maintain the integrity of the blood transfusion process.
Blood donation campaigns, mobile blood drives, and community outreach programs are common methods to encourage blood donation in Africa. To contribute, you can participate in organised blood donation events or visit local blood donation centres.
Blood transfusion is the process of receiving blood or blood components from a donor. You might need a blood transfusion to restore blood volume, treat certain medical conditions, or support surgeries.
There is usually minimal preparation. Your healthcare provider will inform you if any specific steps are necessary, such as fasting or medication adjustment.
Currently, there is no set number of blood transfusions a person can have. But following its guidelines can reduce risks and improve outcomes.
Frequent visual observation during transfusions is essential to identify signs of reactions or adverse events. The patients must be observed closely for the first 15 minutes of each pack and at least hourly throughout the transfusion.
In certain cases, alternatives to blood transfusion, such as growth factors or volume expanders, may be considered. Some also consider medication. However, the suitability of alternatives depends on the specific medical condition.
In some cases, people may decline blood transfusions due to cultural or religious beliefs. Healthcare providers should seek alternative treatments and respect the patient's choices while prioritising prioritizing their health.
Blood transfusion is a medical intervention that saves lives, improves health, and offers hope to individuals facing various medical challenges. By understanding what blood transfusion is, when it is needed, when it should be avoided, how it is administered, the potential risks, and the benefits it provides, Africans can make informed decisions about their healthcare. It is essential to acknowledge the critical role that blood transfusion plays in the medical field and its impact on the lives of countless individuals in the region and worldwide.
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3. Adigwe OP, Onoja SO, and Onavbavba G, National Library of Medicine A Critical Review of Sickle Cell Disease Burden and Challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa J. Blood Med.2023;14:367-376 Published Online 2023 May 31, doi:10.2147/JMB.S406196
4. World Health Organization Blood Safety and Availability [Internet 2 June 2023].
5. Medical News Today Blood Transfusions: Is there a limit? Last reviewed January 16, 2020.
6. Australian Red Cross Life Blood Transfusion Process: Monitoring and observation [Internet. n.d]. Accessed November 10, 2023
Published: October 12, 2023
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