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New blood exchange machines bring hope for sickle cell patients

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NEW blood exchange machines will be fully functional at Bahrain’s main hospital later this month and help streamline the treatment of sickle cell disease (SCD) patients.

Four machines at Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC) which are currently used only for emergency cases will be made available to outpatients and inpatients, according to Bahrain Sickle Cell Anaemia Patient Care Society president Zakreya Al Kadhem.


The transfusion can now be completed within 24 minutes, instead of the 48 hours to 10 days it used to take when done manually.

The machines will be operated in two shifts a day, in the morning and evening.

SCD is a group of disorders that affects haemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to cells throughout the body.

People with this disorder have atypical haemoglobin molecules which can distort red blood cells into a sickle, or crescent, shape.

The misshapen cells clog smaller blood vessels, resulting in excruciating pain and putting patients at an increased risk of infection, acute chest syndrome and stroke.

“Death rates from SCD complications could further reduce with the four blood exchange machines soon going fully functional at SMC,” Mr Al Kadhem told the GDN.

“Right now, these are being used only for emergency cases and for inpatients depending on the seriousness of the case.

“For outpatients and regular cases, blood transfusion is done manually which means three units of blood each are taken out and replaced at one time and this could go on for 48 hours to 10 days depending on the foetal haemoglobin (Hfb) level.

“The Hfb level in SCD patients is high which causes the sickling of red blood cells and hence transfusion is done to lower this.

“In manual transfusion, the blood that is taken out contains all the blood cells – healthy and sickling as well as the proteins and vitamins in blood.

“It also has limitations when the attack is acute and with some vital organs like kidney, lungs and liver affected, complications could lead to death.

“We lose lives in almost half of the cases that are complicated to this level.


“The machine does this job (blood exchange) quickly – within 24 minutes for one patient and it sieves out only the sickling red blood cells gauging by its weight – sickle red cells weigh less than the healthy ones.”

One blood transfusion can relieve an SCD patient who suffers an acute attack of pain for eight weeks.

“Following an acute attack, a blood transfusion can help us fight the pain for eight weeks once done.

“Manually, the transfusion can take as many as 10 days which means we have a chance of repeat attacks earlier.

“With the machine the hospital stay time is also reduced.”

The GDN reported earlier that the Genetic Blood Diseases Centre at SMC had one blood exchange machine which cost around BD23,000.

Three others were later donated by the Rotary Club of Manama, Yousif and Aysha Almoayyed Charity and the Bahrain Roadrunners.

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