“Urgent: blood type A+ needed at Saint-Georges Hospital. Please call this number XXXXXX if you can donate.” We’ve all seen this kind of messages posted on all social media platforms and sometimes sent as chain SMS, but like us, you’re probably unaware that these messages are often posted by Donner Sang Compter volunteers.
“It all started in 2006, after I was in a car accident that caused someone’s death. A relative to that person was in urgent need of blood a few weeks after the accident, and the least I could do was donate a few units and ask my friends to help too,” says Yorgui Teyrouz, founder of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Donner Sang Compter (DSC) association. “It felt so good, knowing that this small contribution helped save someone’s life, I knew I had to do something. Later on, with the July 2006 war with Israel, I gathered friends every time I knew of urgent blood need anywhere in Lebanon.” Over years of donating and spreading the word, Yorgui built a database with people and their blood type, becoming the on-call person to contact whenever someone needed blood units and later founding DSC.
How the NGO works when receiving a request in simple on paper: the association contacts as many people as possible with the same blood type as the needed units, asking them to donate at a certain hospital. But when the association became a reference in blood donation and started getting dozens and dozens of requests per day, they found themselves unable to handle the cost of all the phone calls, so they started giving out the contacts of people willing to donate, with their approval. “The pressure is hard to handle,” says Yorgui, “for several reasons, because sometimes the person who called requesting donors calls back and blames us because they didn’t get enough units. Sometimes, donors are away or busy or physically can’t donate. When we get a call and the blood donation process is set in motion, we can’t be 100 percent sure that people will get all the units they need. All we can do is create a link between both parties.”
Another criticism directed at DSC is their alleged homophobic attitude. In fact, in the “Cans and Can’ts” list available on the association website and handed to donors during blood drives, it is said that “You should not give blood if… you are a man who has had sex with another man (even if protected).” The “men who have sex with men” (MSM) blood donation ban has been subject to controversy worldwide. According to Yorgui, “there are studies showing that historically, this group is at higher risk of infectious viruses like hepatitis or HIV. I believe that if a man has been in an exclusive relationship for a long time, he should be able to donate. However, we do not make the rules.” The MSM ban differs from one country to another, but since homosexuality is considered a crime in Lebanon, no law regulates blood donation for same-sex partners, and the DSC association has “to follow international guidelines.”
Yorgui insists they never hold grudges against people who call in, accusing them of not doing their job: “You know, when you’re in a situation where someone you love is in danger and his hope of getting better is by getting blood units, you kind of lose it. You don’t know what you’re saying, and you need someone to blame. We’re this someone, and it’s okay. We do need people to know we are doing our best, though. Mostly, we need people to become donors.” That’s why DSC organizes regular blood drives. Legally, the DSC team can’t collect blood, so they work in collaboration with hospitals. They often organize their blood drives on university campuses to create awareness amongst the student body, considering it the best environment to “spread the word”, or in shopping malls to attract an even wider audience, each time with a different hospital. The blood units collected go to the hospital blood bank, but “it’s not enough. The units we get during the drives are never sufficient, as there really is a blood donation shortage in Lebanon.”
As a “radical solution” for the shortage, Donner Sang Compter are launching their new project in the coming months: the Blood Bus, a mobile blood bank. Simply put, it’s a bus on the outside, a blood donation clinic on the inside, with all the equipment needed to collect blood. With their successful fundraising event at SkyBar Beirut and other private donations, the association is hoping to bring several busses to Lebanon in future. “We might start with just one bus, lending it to a different hospital each day, so that many hospitals start filling their own blood banks. We’ll work with municipalities, universities, public and private companies so they know we’ll be there that day. It’s already quite hard convincing someone to donate blood, so we’re removing half the burden by make it easier on them: we’ll go to them instead of having them come to us.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Donate blood and tell your friends to do the same. DSC does need volunteers to help them with the call center, the blood drives, the posters, the website and a million other things as well, but most of all, they need people to donate blood. Unless you medically can’t or you don’t fit the guideline criteria, there is no reason why you shouldn’t donate. It’s easy, it doesn’t take a lot of time, you can bring someone to entertain you, and that half-hour you spend gives someone else many more years to live.
BY YOUMNA CHAGOURY
The original article was posted here.