Blood Flows in Solidarity in Argentina

  • by Marcela Valente (buenos aires)
  • Thursday, June 14, 2012
  • Inter Press Service

'Hosting the event was very important for us,' Dr Mabel Maschio, head of Argentina's National Blood Plan, told IPS. 'We organised working teams and greatly increased the number of donors.'

The Health Ministry created the plan in 2002 with the aim of gradually moving away from the system of requiring relatives and friends to donate the blood required by patients, the regime followed in nearly all Latin American countries, and instead have a constant supply from regular blood donors.

'Argentina needs 5,000 blood donations a day,' said Maschio. 'This can only be achieved with a population aware of the need to donate blood and blood banks organised to meet the needs.'

When the plan was instituted, only three percent of blood donors in Argentina came forward voluntarily. The rest were relatives or friends of patients. In 2007, the percentage of volunteers had reached seven percent, 'but it had plateaued,' Maschio said.

Argentina redoubled its efforts and in 2010 was the first Latin American country to be chosen to host the 2011 World Blood Donor Day event and carry out campaigns throughout the year, under the slogan 'More blood. More life'.

World Blood Donor Day was created in 2004, co-sponsored by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Federation of Blood Donor Organisations (IFBDO) and the International Society of Blood Transfusion, and was established by the WHO's member countries in 2005.

Its aim is to raise awareness of the need for safe blood and blood products and to thank voluntary unpaid donors for their life-saving gifts of blood.

'In developed countries, voluntary blood donation on a regular basis is an established habit, but awareness levels still need to be maintained. In developing countries, we need to switch from a replacement system of blood donation to regular, anonymous, voluntary donations,' said Maschio.

Argentina's designation as the annual host for World Blood Donation Day led to an increase in voluntary blood donations to 32 percent of the total, Maschio said.

To accomplish this, the number of centralised blood banks in the provinces had to be increased while the number in hospitals decreased. In 2004, only the eastern province of Buenos Aires had an official blood bank, whereas now 20 out of the 24 provinces have them.

'Jujuy, in northwestern Argentina, is the province that has progressed the most, and today 88 percent of its blood donors are regular volunteers, which means that hospitals no longer need to ask patients' relatives for blood,' Maschio said.

Ruben Bongiovanni has been a regular blood donor for more than 10 years. He began giving blood because his granddaughter had leukaemia, and his son asked him on one occasion to give blood for her. His granddaughter survived, yet Bongiovanni continued to give blood once a month.

'I decided to be a blood donor because we all need each other's help,' said Bongiovanni, an architect and promoter of altruistic donation in workshops at the Haemotherapy Unit of the Juan P. Garrahan Children's Hospital in Buenos Aires, where highly complex diseases are treated.

The Circle of Friends of Altruistic Blood Donation, which provides a large proportion of the 600 donations a week the hospital requires, meet there.

The WHO recommends having 35 regular blood donors per 1,000 population, and after the 'More blood. More life' campaign, Argentina has over 30 per 1,000. The country should reach the internationally recommended level by 2015, Maschio predicted.

To move in that direction, a register of regular donors was drawn up. They are called by the blood banks and given appointments when they can give blood without delay. There are also plans to make house calls to take blood, to facilitate contributions.

'The new concept is that it is not a relative who needs blood, but the country and its population as a whole; so a network is needed in which there are always surplus blood units available to cover the needs at any point,' she said.

Maschio said blood banks are veritable 'blood product factories', making different products according to requirements, such as red cells - which are in greatest demand - platelets or plasma.

'Red cells are the star component of blood, because they carry oxygen all round the body. They are important when a patient has lost a lot of blood, or is lacking in red cells,' the doctor said.

Platelets prevent haemorrhaging by forming clots to repair tears in blood vessels. They have a lifespan of about five days, so they have to be isolated from whole blood on a continuous basis, and outdated ones discarded.

Plasma is increasingly used for production of plasma-derived therapeutic agents, rather than for directly treating patients, she said. Argentina has a state laboratory producing these in the central province of Córdoba.

The Haemo-Derivatives Laboratory at the National University of Córdoba receives human plasma and manufactures products like immunoglobulins for auto-immune diseases or Factor VIII for haemophilia type A patients.

'Plasma is a strategic resource,' Maschio said. There are only three haemo-derivatives laboratories so far in Latin America — one in Cuba, one in Venezuela, and the one in Córdoba, which receives plasma from Uruguay and Chile and supplies those countries with finished therapeutic agents, she said. Brazil is building its Hemobras plant for plasma derivatives, but it is not yet in production, she said.

'Córdoba could double its output because those products are in short supply all over the world. In fact, it is increasing its production capacity, but it will need more donors and more efficient transfusions,' she said. The plasma transfused into patients isn't always needed, and less of it should be used in this way so that it can be devoted to manufacturing therapeutic agents, she said. 'We were using 25 percent for transfusions and now we are down to 17 percent, but we want to reduce it to 10 percent,' she said. The plasma supply for the Córdoba laboratory is therefore rising, from 24,500 kilos of plasma in 2007 to 38,000 kilos at present. The head of the National Blood Plan said the past year's drive centred on 'More blood. More life' has yielded excellent results. On Jun. 7, the responsibility for the 2012 World Blood Donor Day was handed over to South Korea, which is adopting the theme 'Every Blood Donor Is a Hero'.

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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