Private hospitals have been given a March deadline for increasing their blood screening capacity or that privilege will be withdrawn, Minister of Health Leslie Ramsammy has said.
Blood, the minister explained at a press briefing on Tuesday, is tested for several diseases and infections which include the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV), Hepatitis B, Syphilis and Malaria. However, he added that the public health sector has recently begun screening blood for Hepatitis C, Human T-lymphotropic Virus (HTLV) and Chagas disease.
While private hospitals have been allowed to recruit and screen their own donors they are unable to screen blood for Hepatitis C, HTLV and Chagas, the health minister said. It is important for blood to be screened for these diseases because it is not impossible that they are present in Guyana.
Ramsammy explained that his ministry “does not want to prevent anyone from having a lucrative business” but is seeking to ensure that citizens get safer blood for themselves and their loved ones.
One case suspected to be Chagas, according to the minister, has been detected but still needs to be confirmed. While the disease is extremely rare in Guyana, the minister stressed that we “must make sure that the possibility of it existing” is erased. Chagas disease is a parasitic infection that occurs in Central and South America and is usually spread by the faeces of the reduviid bug; an insect that infests mud, adobe, or thatch houses. People get infected when they unknowingly rub bug faeces into their eyes or mouth or into a bite wound. Infection can be also be transmitted by blood transfusions or organ transplants. An infected woman can pass the infection to her baby during pregnancy, at delivery, or while breastfeeding.
According to Ramsammy, the suspected case of Chagas was discovered in a section of Guyana where it was least expected to be found. “We would expect to find this disease nearer the border,” but, the minister said, it was discovered at an inland location where “I didn’t expect it”.
Because the possibility exists that these diseases are present, blood screening is even more important. Private hospitals which are currently screening their own blood will therefore have to upgrade their screening skills before the end of this year’s first quarter. Meanwhile, Ramsammy made an urgent call to voluntary donors for blood since, the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) was not able to meet its December target.
The reason for this shortage, he explained, is because many of the donors live in flood affected areas and were unable or not motivated to come out during that period. As a result, there is not enough blood in the bank for this month. All blood types are welcomed especially O negative.
The NBTS had aimed at collecting 10,000 units of blood last year but only managed 7,400 which is a record amount. However, the minister was optimistic that by next year the NBTS will hit the target amount.