Deputy Dean of Graduate Studies and Research Consultant Haematologist Dr Kenneth Charles has admitted that Venezuelans who come to T&T to work would not be eligible to donate blood for one year.
Charles, a senior lecturer, made the comment on Tuesday at his Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope, office in response to a T&T Guardian article published last Friday headlined “Venezuelans can give blood too- NCRHA head.”
In the article, North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) CEO Davlin Thomas stated that Venezuelan nationals can donate blood which would have to be tested.
Thomas made the statement following a World Blood Donor Day symposium titled Safe Blood For All, hosted by UWI’s Faculty of Medical Sciences in collaboration with the NCRHA.
The article also reported that though 65,000 units of blood are required annually, there was a shortage of 22 units, which Charles said was incorrect.
“As far as a transfusion service goes, I think people are eligible to donate (blood) irrespective of their nationality and so on. But there are specific donations eligibility criteria that must be considered. As far as South and Central America go there is this infection that is spread by a bug and a mite and it is called Chagas disease that is endemic in these areas.”
If a person is exposed to the disease, Charles said it can be transmitted in a blood transfusion.
“The tests for exposure do not necessarily become positive before six months,” Charles explained.
Charles said the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that people from South and Central America who visit another country should be deferred from donating blood.
He said another scientific fact was that countries in which malaria are prevalent are also included in the referral list.
Countries in which malaria is prevalent, Charles said are also included on the deferral list.
Venezuela is located on the northern coast of Southern America has seen a recent spike in malaria cases.
Last year, there was also an outbreak of the Chagas disease in the Tachira state of Venezuela which left five people dead and 40 others were suspected to have contracted the disease.
Despite having a successful malaria control in the past, the collapse of Venezuela’s economy and health care system has sparked a resurgence of the mosquito borne infectious disease.
In 2018, Venezuelans had reported 1.3 million malaria cases.
WHO also stated that between 2010 and 2017, Venezuela witnessed a nine fold increase of the number of confirmed cases of malaria climbing to 412,000.
Asked if Venezuelans who recently registered in T&T would be in a position to donate blood after the stipulated time, Charles said the National Blood Transfusion Service would be in a better position to answer that question.
Charles, a former director of the National Blood Transfusion Service, said the shortfall of blood units in T&T was not 22 but instead “22,000.”
WHO recommends that 65,000 units should be collected each year to meet the country’s transfusion requirements.
However, about 20,000 units of blood are donated annually in T&T which accounts for about one third of blood needed to help save lives. A dependable and consistent supply is needed for almost every area of medical practice, ranging from surgical procedures to treatment of patients with blood disorders.
“The blood donation rates in the country are very low compared to what is recommended,” said Charles, the chairman of UWI’s Blood Donor Foundation.
A healthy person is eligible to be a voluntary blood donor if she/he is between the ages 18 to 65 and weighs more than 110 pounds.
Blood can be donated at the country’s six blood donation centres.
Charles said if there are sufficient voluntary non-remunerated blood donors (VNRBDs) “there would be no market for touts,” who sometimes operate outside of blood banks.
VNRBDs are individuals who give their blood freely without payment or right to reclaim one’s donation.
It has been reported that touts who frequent blood banks sell their blood upward of $500 a pint.
Blood is also obtained through Family /Replacement (F/R) donor practices compulsory or forced donation.
Charles said surveys have shown that young people between the ages 18 to 25 donate the least amount of blood, with women donating the majority.
- by Shaliza Hassanali