Health ministry searching for 20,000 life-saving blood donors

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Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly speak with president of the Uwil Guild of Students Kobe Sandy as he donates blood at the rebranded blood donation centre at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope on Sunday. – COURTESY THE MINISTRY OF HEALTH

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said his ministry will be reaching out to the private sector, the University of the West Indies, SEWA TT, NGOs, and the public to attract 20,000 people to donate blood regularly as part of its True Voluntary Blood Donation Campaign.

As part of the initiative, the ministry’s website has been updated to include a preliminary screening form and frequently asked questions to make the process more user friendly.

Speaking at the launch of the newly-renovated blood donation centre for the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA), Deyalsingh said the current chit donation system is unsatisfactory and does not fill the needs of all patients. He called on people to be altruistic and donate blood selflessly.

“The current chit system we have is crisis management 101. What about the accident victim who needs blood now, your mother, your daughter, your sister, your brother, your father, who may need blood one day?

“What happens with the current system is we go into panic mode and reach out, ‘give me a pint of blood.’ We are already in a stressful situation, and not having blood adds to the stress. What about the family that can’t find enough blood donors and have to find people and pay them for blood? This situation is inequitable and quite downright dangerous and unpredictable, and we need solutions. We can’t go on like this.”

Deyalsingh said the ministry has spent the last six months on process re-engineering and building a new website.

“It has questions and answers so that people wishing to become blood donors can pre-screen themselves, so you don’t waste your time going to a blood donation centre only to find out ‘I travelled to South America three months ago, or I had a dental procedure in the last three days so I can’t give blood.’ Your elimination criteria are there.

“We are making the process as easy and customer-friendly as possible to decrease the number of deferrals, and it is working.”

He said the site was launched on June 14 and, to date, there have been 1,870 hits from potential donors.

“We have an online appointment system that is convenient, customer friendly and it is working. So make your appointment. We have had staff engagement and training, updated protocols, and we have updated and made all our physical locations friendly.”

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said the launch of the campaign symbolises the Health Ministry’s commitment to preserve health and human life. She encouraged young adults to step up and become donors in the wake of covid19. She said not everyone qualifies to give blood, but those who could should do so.

“One of the challenges of covid19 was the reduction in blood drives, and to address this demand we need a new generation of donors to step up to the plate and into the space. One can give blood beginning at 18 years old and, therefore, we are targeting our sixth-form students, our post-secondary sector, and those in tertiary education.

“We are asking you to step up and give life to others, to give of yourself because this is a most noble opportunity and responsibility. This is the pinnacle of volunteerism and sacrifice, and this is what we want to engender in our nation – a spirit of selflessness and love of humankind.”

UWI principal Prof Brian Copeland said blood donation is altruistic but is not currently part of TT culture.

“We need to change the hearts and minds of the people of TT so the donation of life through blood is linked to our self-identity, accepted social norms, and accepted model attitudes. In other words, it must be self-rewarding.

“It is my sincere hope, therefore, that the campaign launched today will go some way towards launching this national ideal, and suggest that any awareness programme must be sustained if it is to be effective for current and subsequent generations.”

NCRHA chairman Steve De Las said the campaign and the launch of the centre showed the ministry’s unwavering commitment to healthcare and human existence.

“Giving blood is the essence of generosity, the sharing of life, a symbolic exchange wherein one gives to another a lifeline, time, and a second chance. While the need for blood is universal, we realise that access to blood is not. Our goal is to ensure that it is consistently and readily available at all times for all in need.”

The new blood donation website and accompanying links can be found at https://health.gov.tt/services/blood-donation-transfusion

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