Officials in Kyrgyzstan have expressed alarm in recent weeks over blood shortages in hospitals. The problem has become so acute that parliamentarians are discussing new laws to encourage citizens to donate. But, as I experienced recently, there are some basic reasons people are unwilling to give blood, and they cannot be addressed by legislation.
On January 22, parliament began considering a bill that would encourage military personnel to donate by giving them an extra day off.
But, even if I were given such an incentive, I would think twice before visiting the aggressive and offensive people running our nation’s Republican Blood Center, which is managed by the Ministry of Health.
In late December, an appeal was circulating on a popular local social network: a two-year-old boy was very sick and needed blood. The next morning my friend and I visited the Republican Blood Center, eager to help.
After answering a few questions about my health in a written questionnaire, I was called to speak to a middle-aged woman at the reception desk. “What did you eat over the last three days?” she asked through a small window in a glass wall. I answered that, to be honest, I couldn’t really remember. “Who are you? A princess?” she yelled. “Quickly, tell me what you ate and don’t waste my time!”
Rude service is nothing new in Kyrgyz government agencies, but next the woman said something that all but guaranteed any young woman in this conservative country would not return to the Blood Center.
In front of a room full of men, the woman loudly enquired about my friend’s last menstruation. My friend’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment. As she quietly answered, avoiding the faces of the men listening attentively, the receptionist said she had too recently had her period.
That, and because I had eaten some greasy food, we were both told neither of us was qualified to donate. But it was our treatment that was most upsetting—and telling.
According to World Health Organization standards, to ensure an adequate supply of blood, a country must have 40 regular donors per 1,000 people. In Kyrgyzstan, according to the Health Ministry, the number is 6.2 per 1,000.
Another reason Kyrgyz fear donating blood is lingering worries of infection. It’s an understandable concern after repeat scandals have left hundreds, mostly children, infected with HIV in our hospitals. For this and other horror stories coming out of our dilapidated health system, few people trust doctors.