Iraqis sell their blood to survive

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

BAGHDAD, 12 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Iraqis are selling their own blood to people who are buying supplies for relatives in need, due to a shortage, doctors say.

This has caused concern over the spread of disease since the supplies are not checked for blood-bourne infections.

Every day hundreds of donors can be seen standing outside the blood bank at the Iraqi National Centre for Blood Donations (INCBD) in the capital, Baghdad.

More people have started to donate blood following shortages and a call from the Health Ministry for increased supplies to cope with increasing violence in the country, resulting in more patients requiring urgent blood transfusions.

However, people in the queue willing to donate for free are being intercepted before they reach the centre. Donors are approached by so called 'negotiators' who pay them between US $ 15 - $20 per blood bag. At a time when unemployment stands at 33 percent and most of the country is still dependent on food rations, the sale of blood may be an attractive option for many.

"Every week I come here to sell my blood. It is very easy to get someone to buy it because many families are desperate to help their loved ones who are injured in the hospitals," Nazaare Ammar from Baghdad said, as he stood in the queue to donate blood.

"I was searching for a job for a long time but they pay very little or they ask for typing or English skills and I don't have this so selling blood is easier," he added.

The procedure entails the buyer, someone who is usually in need of supplies for a loved one in hospital, presenting the negotiator with the blood type needed along with the quantity required. Then the negotiator approaches donors in the queue who have the same blood type and enters the donation room with them.

There they negotiate with the blood collectors and persuade them to release the bag stating that there is an emergency. Within half an hour the bag is taken to the buyer, containing approximately 350 cu centimetres of blood.

Health officials say there is little they can do about the sale but have stepped up measures at the collection point.

Dr Haydar Shamari, director of the INCBD said that many blood samples were found to be carrying hepatitis C virus, but that luckily no HIV cases have yet been detected.

"The high requirement of blood every day has resulted in desperation from families to buy blood directly from donors. In our latter analyses we have found cases of infections which have definitely been transmitted to the patient through transfusion," he explained.

According to Shamari the centre is low on supplies and their equipment is old and inefficient. A shortage of blood bags has caused a delay in the donations.

Dr Waleed Kubaissy, a haematologist at Karama hospital in the capital, explained that blood from the same patient should be only be taken with a minimum interval of three months between donations.

Constant donations by the same person at frequent intervals could result in the development of serious blood diseases, such as chronic anemia.

But this has failed to deter people who face desperate times.

"The next time I come here I will bring my 15-year-old son with me so that he can donate and help me to bring more money to my family," Ammar added.


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