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Health officials underscore the need for blood donations

Scores of people turned out to witness the historic launch of a Mobile Blood Collection Unit which was donated by the National Health Service (NHS) of the United Kingdom. The organization was represented by Rudi Page, an NHS consultant and CEO of Making Connections Work.

Speaking during the ceremony outside the Ministry of Health and the Environment’s Headquarters at 39’ers Square, Minister of Health and the Environment Molwyn Joseph said he was grateful to the National Health Service and the United Kingdom for the gift. He said the Bloodmobile is a result of the aggressive approach that his ministry has undertaken to enable the citizens to access modern, reliable and a high-quality health care in Antigua and Barbuda.

“And so this unit isn’t here by accident; this came out of an understanding that we need to improve the health care delivery system in Antigua and Barbuda.”

He continued, “When it leaves here, it can go to AUA (American University of Antigua). I understand that AUA has been very generous in giving blood. It can go to a shopping center; it can go to the various villages and communities.”

In sharing some startling stats, Minister Joseph said that in 2016, the number of blood and blood products prepared from collected units was three thousand, eighty-four (3,084) while the number of blood and blood products requested by doctors was six thousand, nine hundred and fifty-eight (6,958) – there was a shortage of three thousand, eight hundred and seventy-four (3,874).

“What you needed was 6,958, the shortage was 3,874, which means that you collected less than half of what you needed in the hospital and that condition prevailed for years in this country,” Minister Joseph pointed out

In stressing the importance and timeliness of the Bloodmobile Unit, the Health Minister said for this year 2017, the disparity continues as the number of blood and blood products needed to date have been 2,879 and only 1,582 units have been collected. This reflects a shortage 1,297 units.

Minister Joseph specifically paid tribute to the Blood and Transplant Department of the National Health Service of the United Kingdom and to Antigua and Barbuda’s High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, Ambassador Karen-Mae Hill who facilitated the meetings between the NHS and the Antiguan and Barbudan health officials last year.

He emphasized that the collaboration and partnership between the NHS, the Ministry of Health & the Environment and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda is ongoing and will result in more benefits for the country, building up the nation’s health infrastructure, and ensuring high-quality, accessible and sustainable healthcare.

The minister mentioned that negotiation are currently taking place with the NHS to deliver a mobile mammography unit to Antigua and Barbuda.  This he said will enable women in Antigua and Barbuda to undergo early breast examination and reduce the high rate of breast cancer in the country.

Other initiatives under discussion are the establishment of a Public Health Lab and a National Blood Service Centre of Excellence.

The Antigua and Barbuda Red Cross/Club Life, Medical Benefits Scheme, Mount St. John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC) and the Ministry and Health and the Environment will team up to ensure the effective and efficient operation of the Bloodmobile

Joseph thanked Prime Minister Gaston Browne for his continued support in every aspect of the Ministry’s strategic development.

“I recalled that when I became the Minister of Health and I recognized the poor condition of Mount S. John in so far as diagnostic equipment was concerned, I discussed it with the Prime Minister and he immediately made available 30 million dollars to re-equip MSJMC.”

Prime Minister Browne, in delivering his remarks, said he recognized that Joseph was best suited to deal with the health ministry sector and that being a senior minister, he had the competence and the experience needed to transform this critical and significant sector.

He lauded him and the ministry for the great work done so far and emphasized his government’s commitment to ensuring a healthy and wealthy nation.

“I am very pleased to be here today to stand in support of my minister and all the officials in the Ministry of Health and to commend you for the great job that you have done over the last three years.”

He said the blood mobile unit will strengthen the health infrastructure in the country and that it is fitting that the blood mobile unit was launched on World Blood Donor Day.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rhonda Sealey Thomas said the Ministry of Health and the Environment supports the view of Dr. Carrissa Etienne, Director of PAHO, that universal access to safe and quality blood is essential to comprehensive health care for all.

“Further, we in the ministry consider the provision of safe blood a vital part of our public health conscience. We are confident that the acquisition of this bloodmobile donation unit will go a long way in ensuring a safe and adequate supply of blood in Antigua and Barbuda and assist the ministry in meeting the needs of the public.”

Dr. Sealey Thomas noted that another important component of the country’s health system is forming and strengthening alliances with the private sector, civil society organizations and regional and international organizations.

She said the grand occasion was a prime example of the above.

President of the Antigua and Barbuda Red Cross, Michael Joseph also addressed the gathering. He said that on World Blood Donor Day, millions of individuals, groups, organizations and health departments all over the world celebrate the amazing contribution of individuals giving the gift of life- blood.

He said the enthusiasm and assertiveness displayed by Minister Joseph and his Ministry to help the national blood bank has re-energized the blood donation initiative and the Red Cross is willing and ready to work along with all partners to ensure an efficient blood supply in Antigua and Barbuda.

“This new equipment will redefine the ability of our collective goal, it removes the arduous, logistical tasks of organizing blood drives and will increase the number of drives we are capable of planning.”

World Blood Donor Day 2017 ran under the theme ‘Don’t wait until disaster strikes. What can you do? – Give Blood, Give Now, Give Often.’

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