By Lice Movono of RNZ
Blood stocks across Covid-19 stricken Fiji are critically low and volunteers have had to ask their personal contacts for blood donations.
Although the Fiji National Blood Service has a regular pool of blood donors which kept blood supply sufficient, the current challenges of the country's Covid outbreak is keeping donors away, which is a huge problem for the country's three largest hospitals.
The Fiji Red Cross Society's Neomai Kafoa, who is the focal point for its Covid-19 work, said the situation was so serious that they had 85 volunteers on the phones urging friends and family to donate blood.
"It's quite critical at this point. The need for blood is dire, if I can say, right across the country. And this is further exacerbated because of the fact that there's sort of fear around approaching medical facilities to donate blood.
"So there was a sort of generally a shortage there. And now it's worse because of the situation," Kafoa said.
A vaccination centre continues work in Fiji as the outbreak leads to more than 300 Covid-related deaths and close to 37,000 confirmed cases. (Photo / Fiji Government via Facebook)
"At this point, there is no specific target. We're trying to get people to at least come forward and donate. So that's the first point is to just bring people forward to donate."
In the past, the work of the Red Cross to drive blood donations was mainly limited to awareness activities leading up to World Blood Donor Day which falls on June 14.
But Kafoa said with Covid-19 they noticed the government became overwhelmed and was having to make regular community requests for blood donations, so they offered to help the Fiji National Blood Service.
"So our volunteers are already trained in specific areas of health and those volunteers are the ones that we've identified for this particular task. And they have undergone training as well for the blood drive to further support that work.
"And so these volunteers, what they do is that we'll have to call around and get blood donors and they'll liaise with our divisional teams who then liaises with the Ministry of Health to be able to provide locations for these blood drives to happen."
There have been times in the past when the Fijian Blood Bank has been depleted and patients at government facilities have had to reach out to their family members to donate blood.
But according to the Red Cross, which is the government's community blood drive partner, current shortages are exacerbated by public fear of contracting Covid-19 at government health facilities.
The organisation says it is working to ensure blood donors know of safe locations where they can donate blood.
"The obvious fear from the public is if I go to this particular facility, I might catch it. So while the arrangements are there, the gap we feel is that people are not getting sufficient information so they're not really identifying the places that they need to go to be able to do that.
"So the support that we are providing is also to be able to identify venues that people can go to, to be able to give blood and getting that information to everyone is where the issue is," Kafoa said.
Meanwhile, Fiji's Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health James Fong has been stressing the importance of donating blood and reminding the public that Covid-19 can't be transmitted by blood transfusion.
Dr James Fong. (Photo / Fiji Government via Facebook)
"The virus is transmitted from the respiratory tract as droplets and to a smaller extent as airborne in confined spaces. It is not transmissible in blood," Fong said.
"As such we need asymptomatic people to donate blood. Even in this Covid times, blood still is essential. The child we saved in Kadavu through Medivac this week was saved by blood transfusion and surgery."
In the first eight days of August, Fiji has recorded 7198 new infections and 60 Covid-19 deaths. There are currently 24,138 active cases of Covid in the community.
Since the current outbreak began in April there have been more than 300 covid-related deaths and close to 37,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19.
The government continues to resist imposing a national lockdown, insisting that its mass vaccination programme is the only way out of the outbreak.