Ensuring that everyone has access to safe blood means all countries need voluntary blood donors who give blood regularly, and screening facilities that eliminate the transmission of Transfusion Transmitted Infections (TTIs). It needs everyone to participate in advocating for change. Several voices from Thailand explain why they are making this their mission.
Ms Pawinee Kupatawintu, Deputy Director National Blood Center, Thai Red Cross and Dr. Wit Sitthiwekin, News Anchor, Public Relations and Marketing expert and a regular blood donor tell us more about the critical need for blood donations and effective diagnostics to ensure safe blood transfusions. Pol. Lt. Gen. Nopadol Pueksomon recalls how an army mission changed his life in an instant, and his experience of receiving over 100 bags of donated blood following a series of operations.
A lifesaving resource in short supply
Blood donations are a critical part of any healthcare system. Whether a patient receives whole blood, red cells, platelets or plasma, this lifesaving care starts with one person making a generous donation. The need for blood is universal, but access to safe blood for all those who need it is not.
Blood shortages are particularly acute in low- and middle-income countries. In addition, only 76% of blood donated in low-income countries are screened using basic quality procedures.1 Unscreened blood donations can also lead to recipients contracting TTIs like Hepatitis and HIV, through infected, unsafe blood.
Click here to watch the video interview of Dr. Wit Sitthiwekin.
The willingness to donate blood
An effective blood donor programme, characterised by wide and active participation of the population, is crucial in meeting the need of blood transfusions. Dr. Wit Sitthiwekin, News Anchor, Public Relations and Marketing expert and regular blood donor, recalled his rationale for becoming a regular blood donor. “If I’m in a position to do something to help others, and it doesn’t have any negative impact on my health, then why not? When you think of the blood you donate and how it’s used to save lives, it’s a very meaningful and simple way to help others.” Over the years, Dr. Sitthiwekin has donated blood up to 121 times and has maintained his regular donations slots as much as possible.
The covid-19 pandemic however, forced things to change. “During the pandemic, blood donations in Thailand dropped by 20%. We had to raise a lot of awareness on the low blood supply to show how there was a great need for blood donations, and hopefully encourage people to come and donate blood,” says Ms Pawinee Kupatawintu, Deputy Director National Blood Center, Thai Red Cross.
The pandemic presented more challenges as the nation was on lock down, usual blood donation sites around the country had no footfall, but the need for safe blood still remained. “We had to restrategise, starting with ensuring donor’s safety to encourage them to come back to our blood donation centre. We also shifted to locations like residential areas as opposed to universities and offices since most people stayed at home,” says Ms Kupatawintu.
Click here to watch the video interview of Ms Pawinee Kupatawintu.
Effective screening for safe blood
The second pillar of an effective blood donor programme is effective diagnostics capabilities to ensure blood donated is free of TTIs. “These diagnostics protocols are critical, because one bag of blood can be transfused to three potential patients. If that blood contains any infections, that’s a horrible consequence for that patient who was relying on that blood for another health issue,” says Dr Sitthiwekin. “Patient safety is paramount. The use of more sensitive blood screening technologies assures us that transfusions from donor to patient are safe. Doing this at scale is an essential part of blood donation programmes as it provides a sense of security for the patients who are depending on these transfusions,” concurs Ms Kupatawintu.
The quest for a sufficient supply of safe blood in Thailand continues, and Ms Kupatawintu hopes for standardised protocols across Thailand. “We need to ensure adequate and safe blood for all our patients in Thailand. Collaboration across our country is key to also set up quality standards for blood screening. Centralising our data for blood donation inventory will also help us manage the supply of blood across the country more effectively.”
From donor to recipient, safe blood saves lives. Watch this video of Pol. Lt. Gen. Nopadol Pueksomon and hear firsthand how every single blood donation makes a difference to his life, and countless others like him.
1World Health Organization. (26 May 2022) Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/blood-safety-and-availability