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COVID-19 has indirectly affected T&T’s blood supplies and the Ministry of Health has started an active drive to encourage voluntary blood donations.

Responding to questions e-mailed by Guardian Media about the challenges of blood availability, the ministry said it is continuing to encourage members of the public to voluntarily donate blood in order to continuously replenish the national supply.

“In Trinidad and Tobago, just over 20,000 units of blood are donated by the members of the public annually. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that we should collect one unit for every 20 people every year. Given the size of our population, this country actually needs 70,000 units of blood per year,” the ministry said.

While the stock of blood and blood products has been a long-standing challenge for the public sector, the ministry said there has been a noted reduction in blood donation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The development of the parallel healthcare system, to manage suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19, ensured that there was limited impact on the standard health care system. Thus, the demand for blood and blood products for medical procedures, like the delivery of babies and heart surgeries, remained constant,” the ministry said.

To combat the shortages, the Ministry said several blood donation drives have been held over the past three months.

One drive was done in collaboration with the Blood Donor Foundation of the University of the West Indies.

“The ministry continues to reach out to members of the blood donor database to come out and donate voluntarily and, with the support of one of the country’s main mobile phone service providers, text messages are sent to members of the public to encourage voluntary blood donation,” the ministry said.

Long-term strategies have also been employed.

“Blood Transfusion Committees have been re-instituted in each Regional Health Authority. These committees are responsible for ensuring that all required protocols and guidelines are implemented consistently and that blood and blood products are utilised optimally with no wastage.

“The ministry has also established a National Blood Donor Committee which is chaired by the Chief Medical Officer and includes representatives from the National Blood Transfusion Service and the University of the West Indies,” the ministry revealed.

There has also been the transition from a chit-based blood donation system to a voluntary, non-remunerable, system.

“While this is the long-term goal for the blood donation system and will take a few years to be realised, it is a necessary first step to achieving the quality and quantity of safe blood donations required,” the ministry said.

As the world celebrates World Blood Donor Day, the ministry urged members of the public to donate blood.

World Blood Donor Day takes place every year on June 14 and is meant to raise awareness about the global need for safe blood and how everyone can contribute.