Chikungunya outbreak in Belize could reduce blood supply

By Benjamin Flowers
Staff Reporter

An outbreak of Chikungunya in Belize would affect the availability of blood for transfusion. This is the view of the Ministry of Health.

Director of Laboratories overseeing the Belize National Blood Transfusion Service (Blood Bank), Joycelyn Gonzales, explained this week that an outbreak of the viral disease in the country would dramatically decrease the number of people eligible to give blood.

“Any country would have trouble dealing with an outbreak that decreases the number of people able to give blood,” Gonzales said, “At optimal capacity the blood bank carries 75 units of screened blood.”

Gonzales explained that there are two types of blood donors in Belize: voluntary and replacement. Replacement donors give blood for specific individuals who are in need of transfusion or undergoing surgery; while donations from voluntary donors go into the Blood Bank’s reserves.

According to the Ministry of Health, Belize has one of the lowest amounts of voluntary blood donors in the region. This, coupled with the mass disqualification of viable candidates due to a viral outbreak, could be a problem for Belize’s health system.

Doreen Madrill, nurse phlebotomist at the Blood Bank, explained this week that the bank adheres to strict quality assurance regulations when accepting blood donations.

“You must be in good health to donate blood. No sickness, no medication and no tattoos under twelve months old,” Madrill said. “The donated blood is going to sick people so we need the donor to be in good health.”

When a donor goes to the blood bank to give blood he/she undergoes a confidential interview process to assist in determining health and health risks. Once they pass, their blood level is checked to ensure that they have the required amount. Males require a blood level of 13.5, while females require 12.5.

First time donors additionally undergo a blood grouping test, to determine their blood type. Once they pass the interview stage the blood is mandatorily screened for HIV, Syphilis and Malaria.

Persons giving blood are advised to have a solid meal prior to giving blood to minimize the risk of fainting after donating. The blood bank keeps the units of blood for only 35 days to ensure quality. However persons who have had a unit of replacement blood donated have up to 3 months to receive the unit.

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