The severe COVID-19 virus caused the pandemic that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared in 2020, and it led to a massive disruption in health care services across all countries worldwide. Since the pandemic occurred, one of the major areas of healthcare it affected was blood transfusion and donation. There were significant concerns about blood availability for patients in need, and it was a severe threat to the treatment of patients. This article will expand on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on blood transfusion and donation.
Blood transfusion is one practice that cannot be replaced in the health care sector, and with the introduction of the COVID-19 pandemic, the availability of blood has been an issue. There was an increasing shortage of blood worldwide, which significantly affected blood transfusion.
There was a significant decrease in blood donation from about 40% to 67% worldwide. Walk-in blood donors reduced drastically during the pandemic because there was a lockdown, and staying indoors was in their best interest. Hospitals and other health care facilities maintained strict rules on people accessing the building, so people could not just come and go as they pleased.
There was also the concern of the donors contracting the virus through blood donation. Most people were in the dark about what the COVID-19 virus was, especially with all the conspiracy theories and rumours circulating. As something that claimed so many lives, very few were willing to take the risk.
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic hindered blood donation because it diverted the attention of world leaders/policymakers and health workers away from other issues. On the one hand, it is a positive thing because it shows that the governments of many countries worldwide were committed to tackling and managing the spread of the virus, but on the other hand, it stands as a risk to other structures that have been put in place. Over the years, blood donation and transfusion services have reduced mortality and morbidity rates. Still, the intense focus on curbing the COVID-19 spread slowly jeopardises these other life-saving practices.
As a result, most health care facilities had to depend on their blood banks for blood transfusion, which is very limited. So, people lost their lives to COVID-19 and other illnesses because of a lack of blood. Another crucial challenge was the rapid reduction in available health care workers and other essential staff because many across health facilities contracted the COVID-19 virus or suffered other illnesses.
Post-COVID-19 pandemic, various health care facilities have intentionally tried ways to protect prospective donors from the COVID-19 virus while increasing the blood supply. One of those ways is free blood screening. Blood screening involves testing the blood for various infectious diseases, including COVID-19. This was a regular habit at health care facilities pre-COVID-19 but only intensified afterward.
There may be willing donors interested in testing for only COVID-19 before donating blood, and various platforms can make that possible. There are community testing centres specifically for COVID-19 testing. Better still, they could self-test by getting the PCR or the rapid antigen home test kit. They are both quicker and can be done comfortably in their homes. Health care facilities also administer antibody tests to blood donations to confirm if there are COVID-19 antibodies. It is still advised that donors get vaccinated as the body produces antibodies after vaccination.
Another way to spread the word about blood donation is by implementing mobile blood drives in public places like offices, neighbourhoods, and educational institutions with high chances of getting donors. This will help bridge the blood supply and demand gap this season.
Blood transfusion is essential, as there will always be people who need blood, and the only way for people to get the blood they need is when people are willing to donate. Health care workers must maintain necessary protocols in their facilities and be empathetic with the donors to put them at ease and assist them in doing their part.