The selling of blood in Mangochi, Malawi’s lake shore resort district, has become big business fueled by tough economic times as many people strive to make ends meet.
The business is also flourishing because the district hospital is in dire need of a blood bank to meet the growing demand for blood especially for women– in a district with one of the highest birth rates in the country.
District and hospital officials confirmed that because the hospital has no blood bank, vendors have come in to fill the vacuum and are selling a pint of blood at K7,000 ($25).
Seodi White, a rights activist and executive director for Women In Law in Southern Africa ( WILSA), is struggling to save the life of one of her staff members who gave birth to twins and urgently needs blood.
Her name is Hawa Ntila.
“We are trying to save the life of one of our officers [Hawa Ntila] who needs blood urgently. We got a call last night asking for K7,000 to buy blood…I was so surprised and asked why she was buying blood when it’s free.
What she told me shocked me. She said in Mangochi she has to buy blood because vendors are in that business just outside the hospital gates,” said Ms White in a telephone interview.
Right now, she said, we are sending money to save our friend. Ms White said she cross checked with hospital officials who told her that in Mangochi most patients have a choice; of buy blood or they die.
Akimu Kaingana, a veteran journalist working in Mangochi for Malawi News Agency, explained that the people involved are vendors who wait outside the hospital to give blood in exchange for money.
“This happens all the time when one needs blood and there is no relative around to help. What they do is go get someone, agree on the terms and take him to the hospital as a relative to give blood,” he said.
Hospital officials, who asked for anonymity, said that there is nothing they can do to stop the business.
“Without this, those that can’t afford to buy blood may die. The only solution to this is having a blood bank at the hospital,” said one of the senior health officials at the hospital.
This is strange in a country like Malawi where government makes sure that blood is given for free through the Malawi Blood Transfusion Service which was formed with €7.8 million financing from the EU.
The objective of the Service is to reduce the incidence of HIV/Aids and other diseases transmissible by blood and blood products and to ensure the appropriate clinical use of blood through the establishment of a centralised and sustainable blood transfusion service that will provide a safe and adequate blood supply through all health care facilities.
But the revelations in Mangochi today, defeat the whole purpose of the Malawi Blood Transfusion Service and rises the question why people are not willing to donate blood.