Why do people hesitate to donate blood? It’s not for medical reasons alone. Many individuals feel squeamish at the sight of blood. But throw in a needle stick aside from blood and stories of fainting spells, and it’s no wonder potential donors have second thoughts about giving blood, even if it’s for a worthy cause.

Human blood is said to be the only form of treatment which cannot be reproduced commercially, hence, the line give blood, give life.

Blood donors are often hailed as heroes because it is through their generosity and willingness that a stable blood supply can be maintained for those who suffer physical trauma, for diseases needing blood transfusion, and commonly for women with maternal-related conditions.

The Department of Health (DOH) puts the number of stable blood supply at one million blood units, or 1 percent of the country’s population. So far, the country has only about half of that - 480,000 blood units as of June.

Yet even with a shortage of half-a-million, there are many who remain sceptical about blood donation, citing ‘fears’.

Addressing ‘fears’

Experts, however, believe fears can be addressed with proper explanation.

Speaking at the celebration of National Blood Donors Month, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said more people are encouraged to donate blood when the person in need of them is a member of the family or close relatives and friends.

In contrast, those who cannot closely relate to the experience of a person needing blood to heal or survive tend to refrain from donating, citing a variety of reasons.

“There are a lot of misconceptions, particularly in our population. Those who have never been in the hospital or have never known people who need blood, they are the ones who are fearful,” Secretary Ubial said.

Joel Torregoza, president of the Blood Galloners and Dugong Pinoy Association, Inc., an NGO, pointed out that misconceptions related to blood-letting need to be corrected.

“Many of those who do not donate blood think they will get sick, become weak. But these are just misconceptions,” he pointed out.

Others cite a fear of needles, finger pricks, the sight of blood, fainting, and catching different diseases as reasons for not donating blood.

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Dispelling myths

Dr Remedios Ong, board member of the Philippine Blood Donation Coordinating Council told MIMS these “fears” are more myths than fact.

“Education and information dissemination should counter these misconceptions and myths,” Dr Ong said.

The use of a needle to draw blood gives people the impression that donating blood is painful. Red Cross, however, stressed that what individuals will feel is just a small prick and that the health worker will likely apply an anaesthetic first.

It is useful to remember that when a person knows what to expect and has some form of distraction can help deal with their fear.

There are people who feel faint at the sight of blood. According to Psychology Today, this is likely a primitive reflex. The sight of blood does make certain people uneasy, while for others it can be stressful.

However, it has not been established if fainting due to the sight of blood is because of genetics or some other factor.

According to Dr Ong, the usual volume extracted from blood donors is 450 ml. This is to prevent donors from experiencing syncope, which is the temporary loss of consciousness due to low blood pressure.

“It takes about 20 percent of blood loss to create syncope, [or] fainting spells... that is approximately 1,000 ml,” she said. Further, a person’s weight and blood pressure are considered because there are standards to follow.

There are some cases, though, when it is acceptable to go beyond the standards as long as it will benefit the patient, Dr Ong noted.

The Red Cross assures that it is safe to donate blood. Needles used in the procedure are sterile and disposed after a single use.

Dispelling myths is a good strategy to encourage more people to donate blood. Dr Ong said they are part of the education arm of the National Voluntary Blood Service of the Philippines (NVBSP), which conducts regular mission-wide lectures with its partners.

The good thing about these lectures is that those they teach will, in turn, disseminate the information to other groups, Dr Ong noted.

The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) likewise conducts education and recruitment sessions to gain more voluntary blood donations from different communities, companies, organizations and universities nationwide.

The volume collected by the PRC accounts for nearly 50 percent of the nation’s blood supply. It has 82 blood service facilities nationwide.

Other blood collection sites include the Philippine Blood Center, and DOH-run hospitals.

More than being apprehensive about giving blood, an individual should be more aware of conditions that would warrant permanent deferral from blood donation. These include Hepatitis B or C infection, HIV infection, sexual contact with persons infected with HIV, and serious chronic disease such as heart and lung diseases. MIMS

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