On February 4, 2017, my friends and I at iTiS Well of Worship Fellowship organized a blood donation drive at Mount Zion Hotel in response to the recent press reports about acute shortage of blood in the country. Mulago Hospital, the main referral hospital in the country, publicly announced that they would stop carrying out major surgical procedures that needed blood and will only focus on the critical cases such as delivery and accidents.
Read: Mulago suspends operations over blood shortage (The Daily Monitor, January 21, 2017)
That wasn’t our only motivation, however. You see, one of our own has a daughter who, just a couple of weeks ago, needed blood and she just couldn’t get any. The mom spent four hours running around and making desperate phone calls. And it is only after raising a certain amount of money that she was able to get the much-needed blood for her daughter. It could have been worse, four hours is a long time! What would have happened if she hadn’t raised the money?
We (iTiS Well of Worship Fellowship) decided to be part of the solution and not the problem. Instead of whining, complaining and saying “Tusaba gavumenti etuyambe“, we decided to donate blood to save another life out there. Donating blood can also save your own life. You never know when you will need a transfusion. So donating blood is like keeping money in the bank, at a certain point x, you will need to withdraw it.
So it is against that background that we contacted the Nakasero Blood Bank or Uganda Blood Transfusion Service (UBTS) as they are officially called. They initially gave us a date of Tuesday, February 7, 2017, which was later changed to Saturday, February 4, 2017, our preferred date. We were even given a contact person to help us coordinate our efforts on one condition, mobilize at least 100 people.
On Tuesday, a few days before the event, we called UBTS just to confirm if the program was still on and were assured we had been scheduled into the program for the week. The field team would be on site at midday. Not too bad considering that people usually have a few errands to run on Saturday mornings.
We proceeded with our mobilization drive which was clearly bearing fruits. We were on track to meet and beat the 100 people target. The donation was meant to run from midday to about 5:00pm. That would be enough time for all our donors to drop in at their convenience.
We officially wrote to KCCA Central Division, to request them to allow us to use their parking lot as a donation center. For those who are familiar with the geography of that place, it is a perfect spot because we could talk to some passers-by to come and join the cause. There was no way we were going to fail to raise at least 100 pints of blood.
Come Saturday morning, the contact person’s phones are off. Maybe she had a long night and will be up soon. It was just 9:00am after all. At 10:00am a mini panic sets in, the phones are still off. We are now just two hours away from the start. A few people have in fact arrived on site. What is happening?
At 11:00am, one of us drives to UBTS offices just to find out what is happening. We are now one hour away from the start. Surely we can’t afford to lose time. Being Saturday morning, there is barely anyone in the office. One lady has come in to specifically take blood from two donors who had booked earlier. She can’t help much except give us the phone numbers of the Principal Assigning Officer and the Director.
We call the Director who assures us that she will do something.Surely blood will be donated today. She hands us over to the Principle Assigning Officer who in turn hands us over to the Team Leader of a field team already in Kisugu, after all, they are doing a short donation there after which they will come to Mount Zion Hotel.
We go back to site and wait for the team to arrive. We assure our donors already on site that UBTS has been delayed but they are surely on their way. It is now 1:00pm and we are desperate. We call the Team Leader of the team in Kisugu and guess what, he has no idea where his team is. He confirms that he heads the team but he is not sure “where they worked today“. He was probably at his farm somewhere. What else could explain this incompetence?
3:00pm, no team on site. Contact person’s phones still off. The Team from Kisugu nowhere to be seen. A heavy downpour is now beating down on us. We still wait patiently but desperately. We have to donate blood, whatever it will take.
Another call placed to the Director and she says, “Why don’t you reschedule to Tuesday?“. You are kidding me, right? We couldn’t have gone through this pain for nothing. Besides, who will be available on Tuesday to make sure the exercise is conducted? Some of our donors are students, other live out of town. It is just not possible. We politely decline the Tuesday offer. We must do this today, even if it means finishing late.
4:00pm, the Kisugu team is now done and “they are on their way” to Mount Zion Hotel. OK. At least we’ll do some donation. This can’t be a total waste. We call the nurse who delivers the final blow. “I have been dropped at Kobil (Bombo road) by the driver and I don’t know where he has gone. All the equipment is in the ambulance. Maybe we reschedule. It’s too late now.”
The Director later talked about “issuing an official apology on Monday blah blah blah” if we wanted.
What does all this mean?
I talked to Theologian, Philosopher and Critical Thinker, Pastor Isaiah White Tumwine, who helped me put this whole thing into context and perspective. You see, sometimes you need somebody to help you interpret failure.
Failure is one thing but it is easy to miss the lessons and the bigger picture. So have a mentor or somebody who has walked the path you are trying to walk before you to help you interpret failure. I digress.
You do not fix the system, you fix individuals – Pastor Isaiah White Tumwine
By donating blood, you are trying to fix the broken system. And historically, this has never worked anywhere. Systems, by default, are meant to function that way. It is not how they fail but how they work! Broken systems after all benefit middlemen like UBTS. Oppositions politicians could borrow a leaf from this, instead of wasting time demonstrating on the streets.
There is no shortage of blood in Uganda. UBTS is simply holding on to the blood reserves and, with the help of the media, creating an impression that there is no blood in the country. The same way every December there is a shortage of sugar and fuel in Uganda because of hoarding by dealers and businessmen. Somehow, we have all somehow bought into this narrative.
In a broken system, you don’t give blood, you buy blood – – Pastor Isaiah White Tumwine
No wonder Donald Trump won the US election, despite a deliberate and sustained media campaign against him. The media is never neutral, it wants to shape your opinion and ultimately change how you think. No wonder politicians always do whatever they do in front of media cameras. Media does not portray the reality, far from it.
UBTS and Mulago Hospital are clearly using the media to brainwash the gullible Ugandans into believing that is no blood in the country. And yet all they want is to sell the blood to the highest bidder. Cry my beloved country.
Otherwise, how would you explain a shortage of blood when willing donors like us are treated like trash by the custodians of the blood bank. I thought they would move quickest to collect blood from every corner of this country.
Why would they even insist on 100 donors before they come to your venue? I thought every pint (and drop) counts in a crisis? Bottomline, there is no crisis!
Over to you Uganda Blood Transfusion Service – UBTS.