Blood transfusion refers to the safe transfer of blood components from one individual (the donor) to another (the recipient). The availability of safe blood is a universal need as it is vital for treatments and emergency interventions such as in natural disasters, accidents or during surgical procedures. Blood transfusion may be the only hope for patients suffering from life-threatening conditions so as to enable them to not only live a longer, but also a good quality of life. In most countries, blood donors contribute voluntarily and this is preferable with regard to product safety. However, most developing countries are still struggling to avail adequate safe blood in blood banks owing to the low frequency of donation and limited equipment necessary for the transfusion process. The only way to overcome this is to raise awareness about the importance of blood donation and create avenues for people to donate.

Blood transfusion dates as far back as the 17th century with the first successful procedure done on dogs by an English Physician, Dr. Richard Lower. The initial transfusions were done based on poorly understood science resulting in tragic results for most patients. Eventually, further research enabled Dr. Philip Syng Physick to successfully perform the first human blood transfusion in 1795. This paved way for the discovery of the human ABO and Rhesus blood groups in 1901 by a biologist, Karl Landsteiner, based on proteins called antigens (on red blood cells) and antibodies (in the blood). These proteins differ among people, hence matching has to be done to avoid the risk of a reaction that would cause clumping of red cells. Based on this, Landsteiner grouped blood into types A, B, AB and O each with a rhesus positive or negative designation. This system is used to date. Individuals who are O -ve are deemed universal donors because they lack antigens on their red cells hence eliminating the risk of transfusion reactions. AB +ve people are universal recipients as they don’t have antibodies which normally attack antigens in donor blood, therefore reducing the risk of reactions.

There are requirements set to protect both the donor and recipient to ensure optimal health for both parties. For one to be selected as a donor, one should be between 17 and 70 years, have a weight of above 50kg and have an adequate hemoglobin level (requires testing). One should not donate blood in case they: are feeling unwell (both short-term and long-term illnesses), had a body piercing or tattoo or were injected with a non-prescribed drug in the last year, have been on regular medication or are awaiting medical results, received live-attenuated vaccinations in the last 2 months or consumed alcohol 48 hours prior to donation. Individuals who work in environments that require focus such as drivers of public transport, pilots, operators of heavy machinery or cranes, mining or scaffolding are advised to take adequate time off after donation because the risk of fainting would be life-threatening.

To ensure patients receive compatible blood, a number of tests are done. Once the blood group of the recipient is determined, their serum is screened for antibodies so as to choose a donor whose blood lacks the antigen counterpart. After this, a cross-match is done by mixing the patient’s serum and donor’s red blood cells, to check for agglutination (clumping of red cells). If successful, the transfusion is done to save the patient’s life. Some people may experience physical weakness (fatigue), lightheadedness and fainting after donation but they usually recover soon enough. The body replaces the blood in 48 hours of donation, and red cells in about 8 weeks.

The best way to celebrate World Blood Donor Day is to go to the nearest regional transfusion center, or attend certified blood donation drives, and give blood. This will go a long way in minimizing mortality associated with blood loss or diseases of the blood. It is our sole responsibility to raise awareness in our families and neighborhoods to encourage blood donation and save lives for a better world.

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