Why Most Nigerians are Ineligible to Donate Blood in the United States
By Anaele Oko Jumbo
If you do not know that most Nigerians are ineligible to donate blood in the United States, you are not alone. I did not know, but I found out in a rather humiliating way, which is why I have decided to share my story. Before COVID-19, the American Red Cross did a blood drive at my office and I decided to participate as a donor. It was in the last steps of the process that I was rejected as a blood donor. The tourniquet had been wrapped around my upper arm, and the nurse was ready to insert the needle when she asked me where I was born. All I needed to say was Nigeria, and the tourniquet came off my arm.
I left without any clear answers as to why I am ineligible to donate blood. I decided to explore the situation further by contacting the American Red Cross, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). I wrote a letter demanding to know why Nigerians are for the most part ineligible to donate blood in the United States.
All three agencies replied and even followed up with phone calls. Apparently, there are no citizenship requirements to donate blood with the Red Cross. However, any period of residency outside the United States is a major factor in determining blood donation eligibility. A continuous stay of longer than five years in a country or countries that have been classified as malaria-endemic areas may be a disqualifying factor for potential donors. The CDC classifies Nigeria as a malaria-endemic area (www.cdc.gov/malaria/travelers/about_maps.html), so there are different deferral periods for people who have lived in Nigeria for more than five years, as opposed to those who have traveled to Nigeria for a relatively short period.
For example, upon returning to the United States, anyone who has lived in Nigeria for more than five years must wait three years after completing treatment for malaria before being eligible to donate blood. An additional waiting period of three years is also required if you have traveled to Nigeria but have not lived in Nigeria for three consecutive years. Lastly, a trip to Nigeria will require a 12-month waiting period before you become eligible.
The CDC and the Red Cross reported that while there are tests for symptomatic carriers, blood donations are not tested for malaria parasites because there is no effective blood test available for them. Therefore, most Nigerians are ineligible to be blood donors in the United States. Even in this era of COVID-19, most Nigerians who have recovered from COVID-19 may not be eligible to donate plasma to COVID-19 patients.