Blood banks as gold mines

Lagos is the proverbial land of milk and honey for countless greener pasture seekers. Diggers look for gold everywhere. Nothing, even blood, is commercially sacred any longer as revealed in this expose by TOLA ADENUBI and SYLVESTER OKORUWA.

THE practice of visiting hospitals to make inquiries about blood donation is not common in this clime. Perhaps most people that have donated blood in the past had been compelled by the pressing need for the life-saving red liquid by a friend or relative.

For many who had engaged in blood donation, the motive had never been economic but charity and lending humanity a hand. Many people have even made blood donation in the past without asking for compensation from the hospital or blood bank.

However, the harsh economic realities today in the country are forcing a particular age group of Lagosians to now see blood banks as cash points. For youths (mostly males) in early and mid-20’s, the practice of donating blood in exchange for cash is another way of surviving the ongoing recession.


Blood donation procedure

When Saturday Tribune visited the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, the heart of Lagos State, it was gathered that the number of young donors had tripled in recent months.

According to a nurse in the hospital, who did not want her name mentioned, many of the youth that throng the hospital for blood donation are turned back because they are not qualified to do so.

“Blood donation here is not something that people just walk in and simply do in exchange for money. We don’t encourage such. Aside from the fact that we don’t encourage such, in rare cases where we have to do it, there are serious tests that must be carried out on the would-be-donor to ascertain their qualification.

“Our worries are the blood banks scattered across the state. These blood banks were allowed to operate because of rare blood types.

The question of whether these blood banks maintain standards in their blood donation process is something we cannot really confirm.

“For intending blood donors, the first test is physical assessment. The intending donor must have eaten breakfast or lunch and must weigh above 55 kilogramme. We also look at the recent drug history of such a person. This is very important because the drug history of the intending donor could make or mar the receiver of the blood.

“Again, we do what is called Packed Cell Volume test which must be greater than 36 percent. The Packed Cell Volume test is to determine if the intending donor has enough blood in his or her system.

“We also examine the body for things like tattoo and body piercing. Intending donors with tattoo, body piercing, sores, ulcers and rashes are not allowed to donate blood.

“After an intending donor must has scaled these hurdles and donated blood, there are tests that are carried out on the blood. The blood is tested for group, HIV/AIDS, genotype, hepatitis B surface antigen, anti-hepatitis C antibody and syphilis. There is the need to conduct these tests because these are transfusion transmissible infections.

“Then, the patient is asked to rest for 15-30 minutes on a couch to avoid dizziness or fainting. I can’t confirm if these procedures are being followed at the blood banks but I know we have turned back  many young people for failing to meet the criteria,” the nurse explained.


Blood for money

The urge for financial gain has, however, turned many youths to potential blood donors. Many of them besiege blood banks requesting to donate blood for N6,000 or N7,000 a pint.

For Akeem Olayinka, it is another way of making easy money. “A friend introduced me to this business of blood donation. All you need do is to take enough milk in the weeks preceding your visit to the blood bank,” he said.

Asked why he preferred private blood banks to hospitals, Olayinka said: “At blood banks which are privately managed, the stress and scrutiny are not as much as when you visit these so-called big hospitals. Although the blood banks check to be sure that your blood is free of an infection, checks for marks on the body are not always carried out.

“These big hospitals with standard in-house laboratories won’t let you donate blood once they see that you have tattoo on your body. They won’t screen you if they notice body piercing on your body. But at some blood banks, they don’t do such. I really don’t see why tattoos or body piercing on the body should disqualify somebody from donating blood. What has that got to do with the blood?

“Even though the blood banks don’t pay as high as the standard hospitals, I prefer going to them since their scrutiny is mild, compared to what I would face at the hospitals.”

On the amount paid and how often he goes to donate, he stated that: “I donate sometimes twice in two weeks and get paid N5,000 per pint, meaning I make N10,000 in two weeks. It is a cheap way of making quick money with the way the economy is now.

“I used to work at building sites, carry blocks and cement and get paid about N6,000 daily but since my friend told me about this cheap and easy way of making money, I have not regretted it. It is less demanding and taxing. I don’t have to sweat to make money. All I need to do is to eat and sleep well before going to donate blood.

“It is better to focus on this instead of stealing or engaging in acts that the society frowns at. Although I hope to stop very soon if I get something better, for the time being, donating blood is helping me out of financial difficulty.”


Dangerous game

But not all quick-money stories run smoothly or end well like Olayinka’s. Some of his friends in the ‘business’ have not been lucky as they have at one time or another faced serious situations. “Some of my friends have fainted after donating blood. It is not as simple as you think. But we thank God it has not got to that extent for me,” he explained.

When asked to facilitate meetings with the ‘unfortunate ones’, Olayinka said they were not available at the moment but he knew enough to tell their stories. “They fainted because they didn’t eat well. You must eat well before going to donate blood. I have never fainted because I eat and rest well before I go for it. But, really, it is God that has been helping me”.

Although he claimed that no death had occurred around him as a result of this act, a commentator said that “only a timely intervention of relevant stakeholders and regulatory institutions could halt this imminent tragedy.”