Thalassaemia patients in Sabah risk death if blood supply remains low

KOTA KINABALU: The lives of scores of thalassaemia patients in Sabah are at risk because blood is in short supply in hospitals in the state, according to the Sabah Thalassaemia Society.

The society’s president, Francis Mujim, told FMT, Sabah currently had 1,854 thalassaemia patients, with about 70% concentrated in the west coast. Kota Marudu has the most, followed by Pitas and Ranau.

He said about a dozen had died due to complications from thalassaemia since the first movement control order (MCO) was enforced last year.

Thalassaemia is an inherited blood disorder that inhibits the body’s ability to produce haemoglobin and red blood cells. Death can come swiftly for those with severe cases of the disorder if they do not get enough blood transfusions.

Thalassaemia can lead to severe anemia if left untreated. This can cause complications such as a fast heart rate, kidney damage and the presence of fluid in the lungs.

“This will lead to other problems to the body and eventually to death,” Mujim said. “So that’s why blood transfusions are critical for thalassaemia patients. They depend on them.”

Mujim said many of the thalassaemia casualties through the various control orders could not get the blood types they needed.

“Some depended too much on hospitals and succumbed as a consequence. That is why we always encourage patients to make the effort to obtain blood from their next of kin if the supply is not readily available.

“In any case, there is an obvious depletion in blood banks at all hospitals. The drop has been up to 60%. Many thalassaemia patients are still waiting for their blood types.”

He said many donors were reluctant to visit hospitals out of fear of catching Covid-19 and others were discouraged by the movement restrictions.

“Hospitals are now issuing slips to donors so they can show the police when questioned at roadblocks, but even that has not managed to encourage people to donate blood.”

Moses Andywind Tom is a thalassaemia-major patient who goes to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu once a month for his blood transfusion.

Tom, a freelance photographer, is fully aware of the dilemma faced by others just like him and those with worse conditions.

“I need a transfusion once a month, but there are other thalassaemia majors who need three to four transfusions a month,” he said.

“In times like these, with job opportunities fewer due to the MCO, things can get pretty stressful for patients, especially if they are not strong minded.

“Everyone from hospitals to NGOs are aggressively holding blood donation drives but the public reception has not been as before. I hope that will change soon.”

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital used to have a daycare centre that could accommodate 20 to 25 patients a day, but it has since been turned into a Covid-19 ward.

The hospital has assigned another section for the blood transfusions, but Mujim said it could accommodate only up to 15 people a day.

“Honestly, it’s now difficult with the MCO and the pandemic, but the society is grateful that we still have a room.

“We are working with the Sabah Youth Council and other NGOs to get more young people to donate blood. Many have answered the call although it’s still not enough,” he said.

He said the society intended to ramp up donation campaigns with various NGOs, but this would depend on approval from the National Security Council.

“Therefore, we urge the people to please support the campaigns. All the SOPs are there. Help us to save lives, not just thalassaemia patients but all those who need blood.” — Free Malaysia Today

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