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Cash for blood

It was a real shocking discovery.

There are people in Addis who donates (or sell) their blood for a complete stranger in exchange for a quick cash.

I’ve seen a couple of them at around Gandhi Hospital, at the gate of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society’s Blood Bank last Friday, where I went there to donate blood for my mother who needed blood transfusions after being diagnosed with hepatitis B.(She is well now, and this is not about her.)

It was a friend that first told me about this blood trade when we were heading there.

But soon I realized that tracing the seller wasn’t not difficult. They gaze at the people who come from the inside of the Blood Bank.

 Some of them are able-bodied and with well-built physique. Others not. They sit in the platform, waiting for prospective clients.

The clients are people with relatives or friends whose doctor told them that they needed blood transfusion after losing some through accidents, shocks, burns or some other reasons.

Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to pretend as a real a client and tried to talk to some of them. But I only succeeded in talking to M, (only initial), a famous ‘blood broker’ (I learned later) in the area.

 The broker says he has been in the trade for the last three years and argues ‘blood trading’ is not a new profession. It has been there long before he embarked upon the business. ‘It happens that people needs blood at some point. If their own close relatives or friends are willing to give it to them, they wouldn’t come to us. Otherwise we are there for them. As simple as that. After all, there are physical exams one has to undergo before donating. It is a question of supply and demand ’

A nice defense from a typical shrewd and skilled business man.

How much does it cost?

Like all prices in Ethiopia, it is not fixed and is subject for bargain. The maximum price for a liter of plasma could be up to 700 Birr and the minimum is 300 Birr.

How much the ‘blood broker’ takes for himself and give to the donors, he would not tell me.

As this economic exchange is against the principle of the voluntary blood donation and a clandestine affair, it is very hard to find exact figures.

A lady who has a shop there says she has seen many of them over the years, all types of young and old people ,women and men.She says many of them are people who have low or no income.

But inside the Blood Bank, that only encourages the voluntary blood-collection system, there is a warning posted on the wall to be careful of people who claims to sell blood. They will not be accountable for whatever consequences, they stressed.

What consequence?

The lady at the reception told me that the blood sellers are not always honest and might make deal with you even knowing they are not eligible for donation. And the Bank might decide to give you from its own reserve considering the fact that your donors fail the test. And the donors would claim they deserve to get the settled money, saying that if it hadn’t been for them, you wouldn’t get it. She says conflicts like that are common around there.

Outside, the shrewd Delala (broker) and the sellers are  gazing at potential customer, not a fake one like me. 

He wouldn’t tell me whether he himself sells his blood or not.

 Upon my insistence, he admitted that repeated donation could make one physically weak and immobile but he says drinking lots of water and ‘yekorefe tela’ (A beer made of barley) would replenish it.

The ethical dilemma, it doesn’t trouble him

‘Isn’t this better than prostitution?’ he asks.

I didn’t have an answer.

I know desperate people will go great lengths to earn money but never thought there would be people who would sell their tissue in this Christian and Moslem country.


Categories: City Journal
  1. embrt
    December 5, 2006 at 3:29 am

    my dear deluded guadegna, since when has religion curbed man’s unscrupulous habits

  2. aqia
    December 7, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    Good work, keep it coming.

  3. yaya
    December 8, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    Can’t be any chance for people to get infected with HIV through contaminated blood?

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