The Red Challenge: voluntary blood donation campaign using social media

What is the Role of Social Media in Promoting Voluntary Blood Donation?

During the recent maternal death review of the Cebu City Health Department, HEMORRHAGE was cited as the top cause of maternal mortality. Pregnant women bleed due to a gamut of conditions with medical terms like placenta previa (the placenta presents ahead of the baby), abruptio placenta (when the placenta prematurely separates from the uterus), uterine rupture (commonly occurs when a patient with a previous uterine scar undergoes prolonged ineffective labor), uterine atony (when the uterus fails to contract after delivery), undelivered placenta or retained products of conception (when tissues cause continued bleeding).

Mothers are dying because they bleed to death, and the supply of blood components at the Regional Blood Center is not enough to correct the huge amounts of blood lost due to pregnancy-related causes. Even our official textbook Williams Obstetrics reads “Obstetrics is a bloody business!” The ward is filled with patients who cannot go home because life-threatening severe anemia due to acute blood loss is not corrected, because there are no blood components available for blood transfusion. This extends patients’ hospital stay and translates to loss of family income and increased maternal morbidity.

blood need estimates

The population in Cebu is estimated to be 4 million and the estimated blood need is more than 40,000 bags per year or 100-120 bags per day.  Imagine that the blood bags collected in a year by the Regional Blood Center is only roughly less than 10,000 units!  This leaves us with an unmet need for blood approximately 30,000 bags per year.  This unavailability of blood impacts the survival of our mothers profusely bleeding due to pregnancy-related causes.  This also keeps our maternal mortality rate high and is one of the reasons why the millenium development goal #5 (to reduce maternal mortality rate) remains one of the MDGs most likely not to be achieved.

This leaves us to ask, “why are people not donating blood when it can save lives?”

The World Health Organization (WHO) fundamental strategy to securing safe and sufficient blood supply include (1) voluntary blood donation, (2) testing of blood units for transfusion transmissible infections, and (3) rationale blood use.  Voluntary blood donors are safer sources of blood because they donate for altruistic reasons and self-defer when counselled to be an unsuitable donor.  A voluntary blood donor would not know the identity of the patient who eventually receives the blood, whereas a family replacement donor or a commercial donor may feel coerced, or be under psychological pressure and undue influence.  The WHO goal is for all countries to obtain all blood supplies from voluntary unpaid donors by 2020 in accordance with World Health Assembly resolution 28.72, which was adopted in 1975.

There are a number of concerns to consider in securing safe and sufficient blood supply.

1.  Increasing number of diagnosed HIV-positive cases.  Latest data show that one Filipino is diagnosed with HIV every hour.  Majority of these new cases belong to the productive age group from 15 to 24 years.   HIV is a transfusion-transmissible infection.  Unfortunately, significant stigma against people living with HIV (PLWH) still exist and HIV counselling and testing, especially among high risk groups, remain selective and ineffective.

2.  Unsolved problem of illegal IV drug use.  Statistics show that 70% of HIV-positive patients in Cebu got HIV infection through IV drug use.  Transfusion-transmissible infections are transmitted through use of contaminated needles.

3.  The culture of commercialism. The poor from the peripherals approach patients in need of blood donors to get money.  Encouraging people in community to voluntarily donate blood for purely altruistic reasons will be challenged by people who will say “why donate for free when you can sell your blood?”

4.  Low awareness of the need for voluntary blood donation.  People from the community may simply be unaware that people should donate blood, until they encounter a relative or neighbor who urgently needs blood for transfusion.

5.  High penetrations of social media among Filipinos.  Almost all Filipinos have Facebook and there is an increasing use of twitter and other social media platforms.

So join us during this Saturday’s #HealthXPH tweetchat at 9:00 p.m. as we brainstorm and discuss factors in voluntary blood donation:

T1.  What factors encourage voluntary blood donation?

T2.  What factors hinder voluntary blood donation?

T3.  How can social media encourage voluntary blood donation?

Filipinos have to remind themselves that giving blood is giving the most precious gift to another person: the gift that will extend the life of the sick while at the same time, reinvigorate the giver.