Just immediately after Malawi Blood Transfusion Service blood collection teams had finished unpacking equipment, Maria Banda, a street airtime sales lady close to her thirties, dashed to the registration table to be one of the first blood donors of the day. She had left her bench at a street close to Blantyre market in the city of Blantyre.

But this should not be a surprise, as Maria explains well how she learnt to give the precious gift of blood. “In 1999, I fell ill and was admitted at Ntcheu District Hospital,” she began narrating her ordeal, placing a palm against the right cheek. “My mother got worried, I was very ill. She got very worried because the doctors said I needed blood,” she said.

In the year 1999, MBTS had not started its operations. By then, blood was being collected in joint operations by hospitals and Malawi Red Cross Society. MBTS was established in 2003 out of financing agreement between government through the Ministry of Health and the European Union.

Maria was helped through the blood which MRCS and Ntcheu District Hospital collected from schools. Because of that generosity from well-wishing Malawians, she vowed: “When I recovered, I promised to donate blood as long as I am health. I started then with Malawi Red Cross and when MBTS came in I made the decision to continue assisting others. With MBTS now it is a little easier to donate blood.”

Maria Banda is just a particle in the mounds of sand. There are many other people in Malawi who have gone through Maria’s experience. Many people are spending days in hospitals across the country waiting for a turn to receive blood. This is because many Malawians are not donating enough blood for the country to MBTS.

It is annually estimated that Malawi requires at least 80, 000 units of blood to make blood shortage an issue of past. However, MBTS collects about 65 percent of the nationally required blood per year. Statistics show that around 65 percent of blood is consumed by women and children in the hospitals across the country. It is further estimated that at least 80 percent of people who donate blood are young people around the age of 16 up to 25 located in both urban and rural areas.

Realizing the need for blood to save mothers and children, First Merchant Bank in Malawi adopted the issue of safe motherhood as key part of corporate social responsibility strategy, focusing on blood donation. FMB has been working with MBTS on blood donation related issues for the three years. The bank’s officials have pledged to continue supporting this cause.

As it is always said, blood donation is not only for young people. It is a collective responsibility of the nation’s citizens. As long as they are health, 16-65 years, weighing at least 42 kgs and not engaging in risky behaviours, people do preliminary qualify to give blood.

Stepping into the blood donation area to donate blood are two key officials of two renowned corporates in Malawi. One is Sobhuza Ngwenya, Head of Marketing Division at TNM and the other is Sylvia Mataka, the Head of Marketing at First Merchant Bank. They have been donating blood with MBTS for at least 5 times respectively. “To me it’s a personal commitment to save lives. All of us, Malawians have a responsibility to make blood available in the hospitals. On our part as TNM, we have taken part in these blood donation drives before,” Ngwenya said.

How many lives of people can one unit of blood save? Well, this might be a million dollar question lingering in many Malawians. “With one unit donated, you can save 3 lives,” MBTS Chief Lab Officer Charles Nyangulu says, squeezing the laboratory chair to explain more. “You know, we separate the blood into various components, and such blood is used on different patients according to specific disorders to be addressed.”

Nyangulu adds, “Blood can be separated into plasma, red blood cells or platelets and the are the blood products we make to address specific patients’ needs.”

First Merchant Bank Head of Marketing Sylvia Mataka says the bank has organized blood donation drives with MBTS around 7 times, but was quick to state that: “This is not stopping point yet. We will continue to support blood donation drives and working with the MBTS.”

Sylvia Mataka was donating blood for the fifth time and to her every human needs a precious gift at one point in time. “You see, the gift of blood is worth more than millions of kwachas. That is why as FMB we join MBTS to mobilize people to give the gift of life by sponsoring these open days,” she says. 
“Our customers are all over the country clustered around 28 branches. We know in one way or another, they are affected by blood shortage in the hospitals. By working with MBTS, it is our way of saying we are with them,” explains Mataka.

To organize one blood donation open day, it costs slightly above K 0.5 million. MBTS pulls in various consumables, manpower, technical expertise and equipment while leaving the remaining logistical issues to the sponsors. 
Recently MBTS has been making calls for many corporate partners to assist in blood donation events. This could be in the path pursued by FMB or other areas of sponsorship.









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