CAIRO: After a relative of Hisham Kharma spent a period hospitalized, an unexpected hassle for the family was securing blood donations for the patient’s surgeries.
Kharma founded Law 3andak Dam (translating literally to “If you have blood,” and figuratively to “If you have a conscience”) in 2011, a free donor matching service, coinciding with the Mohamed Mahmoud and Tahrir Square clashes since January 2011.
One blood bag or one person willing to donate blood can save a life, or even several lives. However it can be very hard to find certain types of blood at the most critical times, either due to lack of blood donors or endless bureaucracy.
Egypt’s current blood donation system, with around 250 national blood banks, has no tracking system linking the different branches together.
“People have lost faith in blood donations campaigns and portable laboratories that move around Egypt because they no longer trust if their blood will reach people in need but would be sold instead,” Law 3ndak Dam project manager Shaymaa Taher told The Cairo Post.
Many patients suffered delays and some went as far as paying illegal fees to secure donated blood on the black market. Families with limited financial means struggle and cannot afford to buy blood. If no one in the family has the patient’s matching blood type, the patient has to then wait until the family can find someone to donate blood instead.
“A relative of mine had a health condition in which she needed blood transfusions every few months which of course was extremely rare and hard to find,” Rania Ali, who works in marketing, told The Cairo Post. One time they had to obtain the blood type required through the black market, which was “very expensive, illegal, and not even that trustworthy,” she said but they were desperate. “Those who provide that kind of blood are people work in blood banks and manage to get their hands on the blood and perhaps steal it to be able to sell it to people in need for a larger sum of money.”
“We were supposed to launch Law 3ndak Dam in 2012 but due to the circumstances in the country during those times, we were obliged to work strictly through social networks by circulating and spreading the cases sent to us,” Taher told The Cairo Post. Back then they received thousands of requests for blood donors and “thankfully managed to help a large number of people.”
Kharma said the initiative is to build a community approach to blood donation, capitalizing on post-revolution wide-spread social media usage to decrease the amount of time it takes for a patient to receive the blood. It also aims to restore trust in the blood donation field and to provide a complete mapping of available and needed blood nationally.
Donors register their information (blood type, contact details, and governorate) on the official website <www.Law3andakdam.com> and those who need donations can also surf the directory for their needs.
“The process works directly between patients and donors,” Taher explained. “Law 3andak Dam receives online requests daily, either through the social networks or its official website.”
Taher said when a patient needs blood for surgery or for regular blood transfusions, it is the responsibility of the patient and the patient’s family to search for a donor with the matching blood type. “Often families travel from one blood bank to the next in search of the right blood type and are sometimes required to additionally find a donor to replace the blood taken out of the bank,” she said.
Despite the Ministry of Health’s efforts to issue a decree banning the sale of blood in the black market in 1999, it continued to exist. Private blood banks are allowed to sell screened blood but this is a limited supply only available to private hospitals that can afford to buy it since it is paid for by the patients.
There are several citizen sector organizations working on blood donation campaigns such as Resala and Freeblood.com. While these organizations serve as an informative platform on blood donation, they do not have a system to match patients with donors such as Law 3andak Dam.
Kharma said they sometimes create events in cooperation with the Resala foundation and the National Blood Bank where they provide cars, a team of doctors and nurses to help the process, and tests required for blood donations.
Law 3andak Dam remains active as followers and donors increase every day. Thousands of donors exist in the database and the Facebook page has over 29,000 likes and around 6,000 followers on Twitter.