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SELLING BLOOD A VITAL INCOME SOURCE FOR MANY IN BAGHDAD

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As the Iraqi National Center for Blood Donation (INCBD) urges Iraqis to donate more blood to help meet increasing demand, individuals wishing to sell their blood congregate at hospitals in the hope of being able to make some money. Those offering rare blood types are best able to cash in.

"In many cases, desperate families look for blood sellers who can be found around the hospital and at the [Baghdad's main] blood center," Abdallah Farhan Ahmed, a surgeon at Medical City Hospital, said. "The most expensive blood types are the rare ones and we cannot force people to give them for free."

Ahmed said "agents" also stand in front of the INCBD offering blood. They charge US$20-30 for every 350 cu. cm of blood. In a country where, according to Iraq's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, unemployment stands at over 38 percent, the sale of blood is an attractive option for many.

"I need to feed my family, and others need blood to save their loved ones and it is a fair exchange. I come here every month to sell my blood. I know I should do this less frequently but I'm unemployed and my family needs to eat," said a blood seller who preferred anonymity.


The continuing violence in Baghdad has kept the demand for blood high: "The increase in violence in Iraq has prevented us from storing adequate blood supplies," said Maruan Haydar, a senior official in the Ministry of Health.

"We are requesting donations of all types of blood… especially rare types like AB and O," he said.

Ahmed told IRIN that at least one in five operations in the hospital require a blood transfusion and that on many occasions they had to postpone operations because the type of blood required was not available.

"We perform operations only in emergencies. Heart and brain operations are being postponed until the right blood is available -- and that sometimes might take over two weeks," Ahmed said.

According to Haydar, since January 2006 the number of blood donors has been decreasing as the level of violence has increased in the Bab al-Muadham District of Baghdad where the INCBD has its premises.

"The center is located in one of the most dangerous areas of the capital and people are scared to take the risk [of going there to donate blood] but we have to continue with our appeal," Haydar said. "We have asked the Ministry of Interior to reinforce security in the district to allow people to donate blood in safety, but the presence of different militias has brought fear."

The center has issued many appeals for blood donations in the past three years but according to officials the problem is now critical.

Abu Muhammad Farez, 41, has been donating blood to the center for the past eight years but he has told IRIN that this will be his last time as security has been deteriorating and he cannot take any more risks.

"To reach the center I was stopped at checkpoints manned by militias and local police… Because I have a long beard they accused me of being a supporter of the insurgents," Farez said. "I know it is ridiculous but they didn't believe that someone was in that area to help other Iraqis rather than kill them."

"Unfortunately I will stop donating until I feel secure enough to return to the center," Farez added.


© IRIN 2007

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Albion Monitor   September 10, 2007   (http://www.albionmonitor.com)

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