A record written in blood

When Harare’s Ernest Hatchett gave his 250th pint of blood about a month ago, he – along with fellow donor Buss Julian Ronald — became Africa’s biggest blood giver. The feat was enough to earn him an accolade at the World Blood Donor Day awards ceremony in Harare.

“It is something which has not happened in Africa before and donating blood more than 250 times really shows that they have a higher level of dedication towards saving lives,” remarked National Blood Services Zimbabwe spokesperson Miss Esther Massundah. Mr Hatchett (69), a family man working for an undisclosed organisation in the capital, started donating blood 48 years ago and has given almost 135 litres to date.

His first donation was in 1968 at the then National Blood Transfusion. “In 1967 I witnessed a motor accident and as I was one of the first people to be there I stopped to assist,” Mr Hatchett says. “While we were helping out, a drunk driver drove through the accident scene hitting six people. I was one of the six and they put me in an ambulance with one of the chaps that had been seriously injured in the accident. “They were saying to him you have lost a lot of blood and I remember him saying to me that he hoped that they have got enough blood for him as he was an A negative blood type which was rare. It stuck with me.”

Mr Hatchett was to learn that he was also A negative during his national service training the following year, a discovery which would inspire him to become a life donor. “When I finished my national service in January 1969 I decided to go to the blood transfusion centre, did some tests and started donating blood. That’s how I started and I have not stopped ever since.”

The only time Mr Hatchett did not donate was when he was being treated for malaria as he had to wait for about 10 weeks before resuming. Donating blood is a practice yet to be fully embraced in Zimbabwe. The majority of the population, particularly in rural areas, have not been oriented to donate blood and as such shy away from it. It is for this reason that Mr Hatchett always encourages anyone he meets, including this writer to donate blood.

“I try to preach the word to everyone. My two daughters have become regular donors here, and my boss is now a blood donor too including a few guys from work.” Mr Hatchett says needles don’t scare him, and the donor sessions are an opportunity to read magazines and books “knowing that a beer awaits” him at the end.

Mr Hatchett’s generosity has also paid him back. Having twice given birth through surgery, his wife needed blood on both occasions and got it for free from NBSZ thanks to Mr Hatchett’s history of donating. The record-breaking donor says he has no intentions of quitting donating anytime soon, adding that he is now aiming to reach the 300th mark.

“It’s a great feeling for me, it’s an achievement for me, when I started donating I never thought that I would reach such a milestone,” he says. “I will keep going and I’m targeting to reach 300 times. As long as they allow me to come I will keep on donating. There is always people who need blood so why should we stop.”

According to the Guinness Book of Records, Terry Price is currently the biggest blood donor with 894 litres. Terry’s goal is to donate 1 000 litres of plasma to help provide lifesaving options for people with immunodeficiency disorders, hemophilic patients, burn victims, and severe trauma patients.

Negative blood types are scarce with less than 10 percent of the world’s population in this group. In Zimbabwe blood, remains expensive. Although the prices were recently reviewed from US$135 to US$100 a pint, observers say it is still US$50 more expensive than in neighbouring countries.

According to the NBSZ, the cost of collecting and storing blood is a major determinant of what patients then pay.
In other countries blood, is subsidised by governments so that patients can better afford it. Miss Massundah encouraged more donors to come forward and donate, saying: “We are now engaging in awareness campaigns so that we have more people coming to donate.

We will be working with chiefs in rural communities so that they can help us educate people on what blood donation is all about.
“We are also making consultations with our stakeholders to see how blood can be availed to those who cannot afford.”
Mr Massundah appealed to Government to avail funding to bring down blood prices.

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