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How You Can Save Lives - Blood donation explained

For all the advances in medicine, scientists are yet to find a substitute for blood in the treatment of potentially fatal blood loss. Replacing with screened blood from a healthy individual is one of the major and effective treatment options available.

Globally, thousands of people die daily from haemorrhage (blood loss). This can occur from accidents, during childbirth, people living with cancer or any disease that causes destruction of blood cells from kidney damage to malaria. Millions of men, women, and children still die due to a lack of access to freely donated blood.

This is disheartening as blood loss is a preventable cause of death. Why do we have to lose loved ones with promising lives ahead for something that has a simple solution?

Blood donation habits are still very low in the developing world where ironically much of the need for blood lies. It is, therefore, crucial to have a change in attitudes towards this lifesaving exercise.

Educating the public on what it entails will hopefully improve the rates of voluntary donation and well-stocked blood banks which will be on the ground to respond to cases who need an urgent blood transfusion.

Every country requires an efficient national blood transfusion program but this is achieved not only by a committed government in funding and provision of human and other resources but also a culture of 100% voluntary donations by its citizens.

Blood 101

Whole blood, the much-famed elixir of life, is the red liquid flowing through your veins. It contains different living cells, each with its specific functions. Red blood cells help to transport oxygen to all parts of the body. White blood cells make up the body's defence system and fight infections. Platelets contribute to clotting, helps create a plug whenever you sustain a cut or wound to prevent you from bleeding out. Plasma is the fluid that carries these cells. Donation occurs when whole blood is obtained from a healthy person.

The blood groups are O. A, B, and AB. Each of these may have the Rhesus antigen. If this is present, you have Rh positive. If absent, the person is Rh negative. People with O negative blood are regarded as universal donors as their blood can be given to patients in need of blood in emergencies and critical conditions where the medical team does not have enough time to check for this. This is because the O blood group can be given to anyone. The recipient's antibodies will not attack blood cells in a donor's Rhesus negative blood, thus preventing blood transfusion reactions which can be fatal. Hence O negative blood is the safe blood to give in every scenario where the exact blood group is not yet available.

To learn more about blood and its donation, take part in this quiz and download a handbook to guide you through the process.

Reasons to Donate

Donated blood can be given to (transfused into) a person who has lost blood from an accident, cancer, kidney disease, childbirth, and other diseases in which blood cells are destroyed.

It can be given in its original form or separated into fractions (the component cells) which are given in cases where these specific cells are required.

Thus with one donation, you can save a child suffering from cancer or sickle cell anaemia, people with blood disorders, that patient undergoing surgery and has lost a lot of blood, a new mother who lost significant levels of blood during childbirth, a traveler involved in a ghastly accident, the construction worker who sustained a fracture, or a new-born who would otherwise die from jaundice.

Without blood, these people children and adults will most likely die from their illness. Your blood literally turns around the prognosis of these different people and gives them a more positive outcome. Many blood donors consider it the best gift they could ever give.

Amount of Blood Collected

The human body contains about 5 litres of blood - an amount maintained by the kidneys. The blood collected at donation is called a unit or the pint which is about half a litre. Try to picture a 50cl bottle of Coke or a sachet of water as compared to about ten of this in an adult body. This amount is about 10% of total blood volume and is the safe limit for donors.

The donor may feel a little dizzy afterward and are usually implored to rest a little, have a healthy drink to prevent dehydration. In almost all cases, you would be able to return to your daily activities. Health professionals who are conducting the donation are at hand and trained to handle the rare emergencies that occur.

The process is stopped immediately there is a negative reaction.

You can donate blood as often as 4 times a year. Males can donate every 3 months while females can donate every 4 months


  • Due to the issue of consent, blood is obtained from people over the ages of 18.

  • Women who are on their periods are usually asked to come after it has ended to be sure they aren't anaemic. This is because many women experience heavy periods which is a cause of blood loss itself.

  • People with chronic conditions like diabetes who want to donate must be cleared by their physicians and be meticulous about treatment.

  • People whose blood is not up to healthy limits cannot donate blood. This prevents emergencies of blood loss in an intending donor.

  • If you feel unwell, you should say so and your donation will be postponed

  • In disasters and emergencies where many people lose blood, which constitutes special circumstances, these procedures are still followed. This is to make sure that no new emergencies or illness occur as a result, compounding the problem at hand.

Benefits of Blood Donation   

Blood donors have to maintain a healthy lifestyle to ensure their blood can be used to help people who are ill. This helps the donor to be healthy and less likely to fall sick.

Recurrent donors relish the joyful feeling of saving lives and contributing positively to society and this alone is a great boost for mental well being. For some, this is enough reason to keep donating blood. They try their best to eat healthily, reduce alcohol consumption, avoid risky behaviors like unprotected sex and multiple sexual partners, sharing of needles and other sharp objects, recreational drug abuse etc. This makes them more conscious of their health and keeps them up-to-date with their health status.

Many intending donors have discovered conditions at the early stages during the screening process. This has helped them access treatment early and improve quality of life and survival.

When you donate blood, your body works to replace it by forming new blood cells. This replenishes your blood in circulation. The donation also reduces the risk of heart disease, helps burn calories, remove excess iron which may be harmful and keeps your liver in good shape.

In some hospitals, you are given a lifesaver certificate, badge or donor card. This card contains your blood group, genotype, and other information. The badge or certificate can be used for display or be used to encourage your friends and family.

Complications and Risks

Are you already considering donating blood and want to clarify this as a final step to making your decision? You are doing well so far. Having a clear idea of the benefit and risk of a procedure guides you and this is called an informed decision. After all, the emphasis is on voluntary.

Blood donation is now a safe procedure where new, sterile and disposable materials are used to collect your blood. The selection criteria exist to allow only healthy individuals to donate. Even then, only a certain amount is collected at any one time.

When the above precautions pre-donation, during donation and post-donation are followed closely, the chances of complications are extremely minimal.

Places To Donate

- Government hospitals usually tertiary and secondary centres have a blood transfusion service. In Lagos, they include General Hospital, Lagos Island, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) Idi-Araba, Lagos, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) Ikeja, Lagos

- Lifebank

- Bloodplus

You may not have the means, special powers or voice to change national policies or save millions of people. Nevertheless, you too can be a superhero to someone of more by donating blood today.

Evbuomwan Nosakhare
Friday, January 24, 2020
Brilliant work, Toye.