CHE depthChildren and TeenagersCivil SocietyHealthSanitary system

Children infected when transfused, payment of donors and other consequences of the Venezuelan blood bank crisis | via: Contrapunto

Vanessa Davies | Venezuela | June 14, 2023 | Image: AFP

Unofficial translation made by HumVenezuela…

There is no longer even a national blood program in the Ministry of Health, explains LĂ­a Talavera, president of the Venezuelan Society of Hemotherapy.

Venezuela’s public health system took a hit. It also “made blood”. The blood bank and blood donation sector has not escaped the complex humanitarian emergency. It is not only that resources were not approved for their operation in 2023, as denounced this Tuesday by the president of the Venezuelan Society of Hematology, Maribel MelĂ©ndez. It is that small patients at the JM de los RĂ­os Children’s Hospital have been infected with the hepatitis C virus due to unsafe blood transfusion, as pointed out by Katherine MartĂ­nez, director of Prepara Familia. It is that blood donation, which has been conceived as an altruistic act, can now be mediated by money, with payment to donors, as indicated by LĂ­a Talavera, president of the Venezuelan Society of Hemotherapy. There is no longer even a national blood program in the Ministry of Health, said Talavera.

This June 14 is World Blood Donor Day. The slogan is “Donate blood, donate plasma, share life, share it often”. A day earlier, 10 medical and scientific organizations warned about the crisis in the sector in Venezuela.

“An issue of palpitating urgency has not been allocated a penny in the 2023 budget. How do they intend to address this situation?” condemned Carlos Walter, former Minister of Health and public health advocate.

“This has been an ordeal for years. The blood banks have some reagents, but these reagents are not of high quality, they are not of sufficient quality. There are no reagents, or those that exist are not of high quality”, they do not pass through the controls of the National Institute of Hygiene, MartĂ­nez explains. “Having to receive transfusions frequently, due to nephrotic syndrome, oncological diseases, diseases such as thalassemia,” they encounter a variety of situations.

“At the JM de los RĂ­os Hospital, all the children who have received polytransfusions for their disease have hepatitis C,” she estimated. “Families are already dealing with a complicated disease, and now also with hepatitis C,” she says. Even those who migrate in search of better health services endure it.

Talavera recalls that blood donation should be free, but the crisis has changed this rule. “It is painful to see a mother who has a child, or a relative, knocking on the door at 11 or 12 o’clock at night to ask ‘please, I need blood for my son who is dying’. We see that every day. People not only ask for donors; they also demand transfusion equipment and blood bags “because currently there are no bags to collect blood from donors”.

Although “blood donation should be voluntary, altruistic and repeated, and should not be paid, we know of cases in which donors are being paid so that donors will come,” he said. That person who receives remuneration “is lying, because if not, he/she is not paid”. Or he/she does not tell the truth to save the family a displeasure”.

Blood centers: New concept for new law

The Venezuelan Society of Hematology managed to be heard by the National Assembly to work on an update of the law. “A month ago we made the presentation and a week ago a work table was set up. Our proposal was received with great receptivity, we are starting the work”, confirmed MelĂ©ndez.

The structure of blood banks “is outdated, obsolete, and they should not function in this way,” she said. On a worldwide scale they operate in a centralized and regionalized manner: “We must migrate from traditional blood banks to blood centers, collection centers and transfusion units”. These collection centers “can be in universities, in the street, everywhere; it is to bring the donation closer to the donor, because the donor does not have to go to the hospital”. This blood is taken to a single site, where it is tested and prepared and then distributed to the transfusion centers.

“To modify this structure,” she reasoned, a national blood plan must be constituted.

However, Walter expressed his fear of making changes in a country “where there is no separation of powers” and warned that in several respects a legal reform would worsen the situation. “We have to see what to do at this point,” because people are still dying.