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Last Updated: Friday, 22 July, 2005, 23:48 GMT 00:48 UK
Life blood for Basra hospitals
By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

The picture has been doctored to protect Ali's identity
Ali donated to save his son
Ali Hussain is waiting with his two brothers to donate blood.

Just hours ago they got the news that his young son Mohammed had been seriously injured in a road accident.

Mohammed was riding his bike when he was hit by a car, which sped away, leaving him lying in a Basra road with a broken leg and arm and serious abdominal injuries.

He needed an operation urgently, but its success relied on his family donating blood for Mohammed, aged six.

Iraq has no national blood donor service. And until very recently the blood in Basra, in the south of Iraq, was not even screened for conditions such as HIV/Aids or hepatitis B.


Rates of HIV/Aids in southern Iraq are relatively low, but there are high numbers of people with hepatitis B.

Luckily for Mohammed, he is to be one of the first patients to use the city's refurbished and re-equipped blood bank.

Here the blood is now screened thoroughly.

If it were not for this refurbished blood bank the doctors say my son would die
Ali Hussain

It can now also be supplemented by limited supplies paid for by the blood bank.

These are used to top up the donations from family members, which means emergency operations can also be catered for.

The Hussain family donate three pints of blood and pray that this, along with the hospital's own supplies, will be enough for Mohammed's operation. All they can do now is wait.

Luckily for Mohammed, the blood donated is enough, and he makes a full recovery.

His father Ali is delighted.

"I have lived through the Iran/Iraq war, the first Gulf War and this recent war to liberate our people.

"My son lived through the dangers of the looting and now gets knocked down by a car.

"Life is difficult. If it were not for this refurbished blood bank, the doctors say my son would die.

"In the old days you gave blood in the hospitals but often they had no equipment or staff to help and people just died. Death was common under the old regime," he said.


Many others from Basra are not as lucky as Mohammed, however.

The old blood bank was dilapidated and equipment was unsafe the blood could not be stored for long. This meant that pre-planned donations were often useless by the time the operation came along.

Major Andrew Mathieson
If you don't have enough blood you will die
Major Andrew Mathieson

Major Andrew Mathieson was the recent head of health services in the Coalition Provisional Authority (South) and is the man responsible for the rehabilitation, reconstruction and capacity building within the Iraqi Health Services in the area.

He said: "The director of health came to us and said there was a serious problem because people were dying because there was not enough safe blood."

He said this could be as many as one in twenty patients dying on the operating table.

Major Mathieson, a Territorial Army officer, who was mobilised for six months from his normal employment as a senior lecturer in environmental and public health at the University of the West of England, Bristol said the old facility had been very run down and was now deemed dangerous.

TA officers, along with local workers, received funding UK funding to refurbish the old building and equip it with the specialist donating chairs and blood weighing scales.


They also replaced the blood bank's two dangerously old fridges, which were cracked and incapable of storing the blood at the proper temperatures.

The refurbished and re-equipped blood bank serves the busy maternity, general and teaching hospitals in Basra.

Major Mathieson said: "The kit they had was 30 years old and dilapidated. They had nothing new - the fridges they had to store the blood were held together by Sellotape and the doors were not properly insulated because they were both cracked."

But he said the family's blood was a finite resource that had to be protected and be capable of being kept until needed.

As in the past, blood has to be collected for routine operations from friends and family with a matching blood group.

"When you go for a pre-planned operation in Iraq, your family has to donate five or six pints of blood, which is then stored at the blood bank for your own use.

"But if you don't have enough blood you will die. If somebody has a road traffic accident and there is no family to donate then they will die.

"The local staff were well educated and know what they should do, but because of years on no investment under the old regime blood donation has dangerous often fatal consequences.

"They still have a long way to go, but with our help they are on the way."

Emergency paid for supplies are slowly growing reducing the number of people that die due to a lack of safe blood.

Commander Steve Spencer of the Royal Navy said: "This was another good example of the military and CPA(S) working in partnership with the local health directorate to improve a service that had been neglected under the previous regime.

"An effective, efficient and safe blood bank is essential to the smooth running of any hospital service."

The names have been changed of the Iraqis in this article for reasons of safety.

If you would like to help in the health reconstruction/medical training/capacity building in Southern Iraq please contact andrewmathieson7@hotmail.com.

UK medical team is Basra bound
16 Apr 04 |  Health


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