Ecuadorian Red Cross Blood Bank Holding Steady In Aftermath of Earthquake

Published: 27 April 2016 23:24 CET

In the wake of the April 16th earthquake that hit Ecuador’s central coast, leaving thousands in need of medical attention, the Ecuadorian Red Cross mobilized all manner of humanitarian aid out to the coast, including search and rescue teams, volunteers trained in pre-hospital care and psychosocial support, as well as emergency supplies.  The immediate emergency mobilization of humanitarian aid to Manabí and Esmeraldas was a top priority for all the working units of the Ecuadorian Red Cross.

The Ecuadorian Red Cross National Blood Centre was one of the first to take action.  In fact, they’ve been taking action in responding to Manabí, Esmeraldas and everywhere else in Ecuador for years now.

“The Blood Centre has been working normal hours, believe it or not,” says Dr. Monica Pesántez, the Director General of the Ecuadorian Red Cross National Blood Centre, the largest blood bank in Ecuador.

“We’ve been able to stay ahead of the situation.  Our contingency plan – coordinating with our donation centres to keep the right amount of blood supply at our distribution centres – has worked.  We have 800 emergency units for the next 15 days and we haven’t yet run out, so…  we actually haven’t had to call for donations.”

As the most robust blood donation and distribution system in the country, the Ecuadorian Red Cross National Blood Centre supplies 92% of the public hospitals in Ecuador and works with the entire private sector as well.  Voluntary donations make up the bulk of the Blood Centre’s supply, at around 97%, while Ecuador’s national supply is only 60% voluntary donations.  With a carefully run operation that uses the strictest quality control and protocols across a National Blood Centre, a regional centre and five fractioning centres, the Blood Centre system runs like clockwork, using scheduled request days and scheduled delivery days to maintain a fresh and usable stock of blood supplies throughout Ecuador.

“Since the lines were knocked out in Manabí and Esmeraldas for a few days after the quake, we immediately sent out an emergency supply, just in case, but now we’re only sending as needed.  No matter how damaged the hospitals out there have been, they’ve all been able to provide blood services to the people affected by the quake.  We’ve been able to send out almost double what we normally send to Manabí and Esmeraldas without really straining our system,” says Dr. Pesántez.

“Every single person who has needed blood has received it.”

Though the Blood Centre’s careful operations and planning has ensured that an emergency supply wasn’t needed, the aftermath of the earthquake still presents a number of challenges.  In a strange twist, Ecuador’s current situation is making the Blood Centre work hard to avoid having too much blood on their hands.

“Our voluntary donors have been coming out in droves!  Our donation centres just can’t handle the volume right now.  It’s tough to tell a donor that we don’t need their blood right now.  We still need them, though, this emergency is going to last for months.

“We have to do a better job of teaching donors that we handle our blood supply according to need.  Blood actually perishes, blood has an expiration date.  The last thing we want is to have a surplus and be forced to destroy part of our inventory,” explains Dr. Pesántez, recognizing the irony of her situation.

“It’s not an easy thing to communicate and there’s not a lot of understanding.  We’ve had some complaints on our social networks, things like ‘hey, what’s going on?  The Ecuadorian Red Cross wouldn’t accept our blood donation, what gives!?’  They don’t understand that blood services are handled according to supply and demand.”

Eventually, as the hospitals and health systems in Manabí and Esmeraldas begin to recover, more blood will be needed once the more intensive surgical procedures begin to happen.

“It’s only been five days.  The real work is going to happen next month, once the number of surgeries go up.”

Dr. Pesántez indicates that when the time comes, the Blood Centre will be ready to open their doors to receiving blood donations from the generous people of Ecuador.

“There’s a radio station we frequently work with and they’re standing by, we just haven’t had to call them to start a donation campaign… yet.  There will be a need, especially for O negative and AB blood types. We have asked people to sign up and stay updated, we’ve also put our reserves on notices.  We have our donor list, large companies we work with for donations from their staffs, and a database of 40,000 volunteers.  Even if the projected numbers for blood supply needs are off, for whatever reason…  I don’t think we have a reason to worry about our capacity to deliver life-saving blood supplies to those affected.”