Thursday, 27 November 2008


Photo from Flickr/bartmaguire. Creative Commons Licence.

I've been a blood donor off and on for years. I first started because of a colleague who had a rare blood type. Every so often, remarkably frequently in fact, the local hospital would send a car for him if they wanted him to give some blood, either routinely or for a specific case. The people who needed his blood were fortunate he was willing and able to give, and that the facilities were all in place. My own blood type turns out to be very ordinary, but nevertheless useful if you happen to need it.

We, in the developed world, accept, expect, that if we need one, we can have a blood transfusion, that blood is there for the asking. But things are not the same in developing countries, not by a long way.

In Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, they are building a new blood bank. Until it is finished the Bwaila maternity hospital has to rely on blood from Blantyre, three hours away. It arrives every day but there is never enough. Most of the donors are students and when the students are on holiday the shortage is even greater.

In emergencies a decision has to be made whether or not to operate on a patient. So many of the mothers coming to Bwaila have an extremely poor diet which often causes severe anaemia, bringing with it an overload on the heart and an inability to cope with extreme effort such as pushing out a baby. But should an operation be done when no blood is available? If a mother is already losing blood the treatment is normally an emergency caesarian section. Should they go ahead and operate if no blood is available? Who would want to be faced with these decisions? The women in Malawi are dying because there is no blood.

But there is better news. Apart from the new blood bank, a new hospital is being built at Bwaila. The Rose Project in Ireland is providing the funding which will ultimately give hope to many women and their babies.

Story from Birthing a Dream.

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