Paidamoyo Chipunza Health Reporter
Scores of people could be losing their lives everyday throughout the country as patients fail to access blood owing to high costs, with hospital authorities now rationing the pints of blood. A recent survey by The Herald showed that the scenario was as a result of a combination of factors that included the high costs and preference by health institutions to financially assist patients requiring lesser blood.
The cost of blood, just like any other medical services, is met by the patient but the National Blood Services Zimbabwe (NBSZ) used to provide the blood to hospitals on a credit facility and the hospitals would recover their money after billing the patient.
Owing to huge debts accrued by the hospitals, majority of which are public institutions, NBTS now requires hospitals to pay cash for them to get the blood.
Left with no choice, the hospitals ask the patients to pay for the blood, which is sold on a cash basis.
Those who fail to raise the money are left to die while in some instances, depending on what the hospital have in its coffers, it might release a specific amount to save a life.
In worst scenarios, hospitals are forced to sacrifice other patients requiring many pints of blood and assist those requiring few pints, while in some cases rationing takes place to ensure everyone requiring blood gets it.
Of late, the cost of blood rose two fold from US$100 to about US$200 a pint, further pushing away chances of accessing the life saver by economically disadvantaged patients.
A visit to Harare Central Hospital bore evidence to this sad scenario.
Requests for money to buy blood on behalf of the patients kept pouring in to the office of the finance director, with all patients requiring urgent transfusion.
One woman — a gynaecological patient required six pints of blood, while five others including a one-year old baby required an average of two pints each, failure of which they were going to die the same day.
This scenario presents a compassionate crisis on the part of the officials on whether to save one patient needing six pints of blood at a cost of US$1 200 or to save five people at almost the same cost.
These are the scenarios public health institutions are presented with on a daily basis, seeing patients die when they know all they need is blood to survive.
Harare Central Hospital’s clinical director Mr George Vera said the situation was dire, especially at his hospital where all the poor seek treatment.
“Most of our patients are very poor and cannot afford to pay for anything,” he said.
“Since we are a referral institution, they also come here when their conditions are already critical and requiring urgent attention.
“We end up sacrificing the little money in our coffers to buy whatever is needed to save a life, but a continuation of such an arrangement also threatens our survival as an institution.”
On the other hand, the NBTS says its own survival is also at stake as it is owed US$1,5 million by hospitals in unpaid blood and blood products.
NBSZ spokesperson Ms Esther Massundah said as a result of that, her organisation now owed its suppliers and statutory payments about US$1,4 million.
“NBSZ now faces serious challenges on how to liquidate what it owes in order for suppliers to continue to provide the critical consumables it needs such as blood bags and test kits,” said Ms Massundah.
According to NBSZ, it costs US$135 to produce a unit of blood and this is the price the blood is sold to hospitals.
Other costs are accrued in the process of cross matching and related processes.
Ms Massundah said to ensure viability of the entity, Government should provide health institutions with sufficient funds to meet the costs of blood and blood products.
She said this way, NBSZ would be able to get revenue from its products just like any other company.
“The revenue will be able to cover capital and operational costs as this is a highly technical field which has to keep up with technological changes and maintenance of the quality management systems,” she said.