Donated blood can now be screened for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV at a very initial stage – before they even ‘appear’ in the donor – with the introduction of a new test called NAT at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH). The nucleic acid amplification test, or NAT, is a definite step forward in ensuring the availability of safer blood and blood products. This was the consensus after a day-long seminar at Aga Khan University to celebrate World Blood Donor Day.
Speaking on the dismal state of blood donations in Pakistan, Dr Bushra Moiz, Consultant Haemotologist, AKUH told the gathering that “a meagre one per cent (10 donations/1000 population) donates blood which means that we fall short of the annual demand of 3.2 million blood units by 40 per cent, almost half.” Elaborating further, she said that there are three types of donors: family/replacement, voluntary non-remunerated, and paid/commercial. In Pakistan, voluntary non-remunerated donors contribute less than 20 per cent of all blood donations, making it difficult to achieve the World Health Organization’s goal of 100 per cent voluntary blood donations by 2020. She also pointed out that 2011 theme for World Blood Donor Day is “more blood, more life”, reinforcing the urgent need for more people all over the world to become life-savers by volunteering to donate blood regularly.
In Pakistan, approximately three to four per cent of the population suffers from viral hepatitis and other transmittable diseases. This makes it all the more important to screen donated blood warned Dr Usman Shaikh, Consultant Haemotologist, AKUH . He described the three steps already adopted by AKUH to ensure a safe blood donation process, with blood donors selected after an interview and a mini-examination to ensure their physical fitness, followed by screening the blood for five transfusion-transmissible diseases including hepatitis B and C, HIV, malaria and syphilis.
Beginning June 14, in addition to the current process, the AKUH blood bank will offer the NAT test said Dr Shaikh. The test, which was first used by the American Red Cross in March 1999, detects very minute amounts of genetic material from deadly viruses such as hepatitis B and C, and HIV. This allows very recently infected donors to be detected, those in the pre-seroconversion phase when antibodies to the illness have not yet developed nor are symptoms visible. For the blood donor it means the early detection, and treatment, of a disease. Blood banks around the city and country can benefit as AKUH would be offering NAT testing services in a quality assured laboratory for their blood and blood products also.
Rida Turabi, Senior Media Executive, Department of Public Affairs, Aga Khan University, Stadium Road, Karachi, on +92 21 3486 2931 or firstname.lastname@example.org