Abdulaziz Al-Bahsir, Founder of Kuwait Blood Bank

Upon returning to Kuwait from his studies in the UK where he graduated as a haematologist, Abdulaziz Al-Bashir worked in the AlSabah hospital heading the Department of Haematology for two years. During these two years he attempted to modernise the laboratory by means of improving methods of detecting diseases. As well as developing work in the laboratory, he left a clear stamp on the technical and administrative aspects of the department, as well as researching some local blood diseases such as sickle-cell disease common in the area.

Abdulaziz had an unlimited quest for knowledge, hence, in 1967 he decided to return to the United Kingdom to specialise in Haematology and Blood Transfusion. There he excelled in his subject and completed it within a year as opposed to the regular two years. Since he completed his studies a year earlier, he decided to join Saint Catherine’s hospital for two years to practise his major subject Haematology and Blood Transfusion, and acquire further practical experience in his field of study. During that time he also joined the hospital’s football team and other social activities.

In 1969, Abdulaziz returned to Kuwait and was appointed a post at AlAmiri hospital blood bank laboratories to develop blood transfusion services and end the import of blood, which since 1965 was imported from Lebanon and Egypt. This lead to Kuwait becoming self-sufficient in local blood donations and later exporting blood on a regional level. It was to be one of the fruits reaped by the Kuwait Ministry of Health, and Abdulaziz made an effective contribution to the development of these services. From then on, Abdulaziz continue to aim at raising the standard of vital health services, particularly those related to the science of blood transfusion, and search for the perfect location to accommodate blood services. He was able to convince officials, at that time Mr Barjass Al Barjass former undersecretary in the Ministry of Health to adopt the idea of developing blood transfusion services in Kuwait. He gave Abdulaziz the green light to do whatever was necessary. He found the perfect location in Jabriyah for the establishment of Kuwait’s first independent blood bank.

 

Abdulaziz’s undertaking to fight the Aids virus

As the AIDS virus was newly discovered, he endeavoured to diligently follow research on this disease through participating in specialised international conferences. He chaired the Asian AIDS Congress in Korea and the Philippines and lectured in both sessions, as well as participating in international conferences on AIDS since 1984. Through his vast experience, particularly the information he accumulated on the disease, he contributed towards the establishment of the Kuwait National AIDS Committee, and headed the technical committee since its establishment. Screening for AIDS was introduced in Kuwait on December 12th 1985, making the Kuwait Blood Bank, the first Arab blood bank to introduce the test as one of the many other routine tests to ensure the safety of patients in Kuwait. In addition, Abdulaziz and his colleagues organised international conferences on AIDS in Kuwait in 1986,1988, 1990 and he chaired the fourth meeting in 1994, the fifth in 1996 and the sixth in 1998. Dr. Abdulrahman AlAwadhi, a former Kuwaiti Minister of Health, commended the role of Abdulaziz in protecting Kuwaiti society from this deadly disease in an article he wrote entitled: “AIDS is inevitably looming”.

Abdulaziz then went on to join the Arab AIDS Committee, which emanated from the executive bureau of the Council of Arab Ministers of Health, and laid out the scientific foundations and civil laws to combat the spread of the AIDS virus in the Arab world. A pamphlet was published for this purpose across the Arab world entitled, “The AIDS virus, how it spread and how to prevent it.”

The permanent location for the Central Blood Bank and international recognition

Notable about Abdulaziz’s character was that his efforts were not focused on one objective, but he worked in many directions, primarily establishing the current Central Blood Bank to keep on par with international blood banks. He designed the Blood Bank for this precise reason, and equipped it with state of the art machinery and selected human resources. However, he had greater vision, which was to gain official recognition from the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB), and with it an international identity for the Blood Bank. In 1989, with his persistence, Kuwait Central Blood Bank received this official recognition, from the highest international rating organisation.

Abdulaziz’s role with the World Health Organization (WHO)

His role was not limited locally or to Arab countries. He also assisted the WHO as a consultant and lecturer through the WHO regional office for the Eastern Mediterranean, which organised international conferences to raise the standard of blood transfusion services in the region. For his distinguished role in the WHO, an honouring ceremony was held in Abu Dhabi in 1967 during the regional meeting for directors of blood transfusion services in the Middle East Abdulaziz was recognised as the best director of blood transfusion services and Kuwait Central Blood Bank was named the best blood bank in the Middle East for its technical standards, quality of services and the high standard of staff expertise.

The Blood Bank’s role in Crises and natural disasters

The Kuwait Blood Bank played a significant role in assisting countries during times of crises and natural disasters. Abdulaziz was ever keen to extend a helping hand to those in need, initially with events of July 1970 in Jordan when the Blood Bank collected 1821 bags of blood to send. In 1972 it collected 134 bags of blood to send to Lebanon in the aftermath of events there.

In October 1973, through his administrative skills, the Blood Bank was able to deliver a huge amount of blood to countries at the front. However, the most significant role he played was during the 1990 Iraqi aggression on Kuwait.

Abdulaziz’s role is divided at this point into five phases
  • Phase one

During the first three days of the invasion, the Blood Bank was resolute in collecting as much blood as possible to perform transfusions on injured Kuwaitis. The response for donating blood was overwhelming, allowing the blood bank to collect around 1000 bags per day, Dr. Abdulaziz personally supervised donations.

  • Phase two

As the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait dragged on, Abdulaziz made the Blood Bank his permanent residence. He remained firmly committed to protect the Blood Bank from destruction, and continue serving citizens as well as delivering blood to members of the resistance wherever they may be.

  • Phase three

This began when the Iraqi leadership decided to transfer all Kuwait’s Ministry of Health facilities to Iraq. Most important at that time was the Central Blood Bank. Abdulaziz was faced with the most difficult decision he had ever encountered which was either to hand over the Blood Bank to the Iraqis, or go to Iraq to “allegedly exchange expertise”. He and another colleague chose to go to Iraq while all other hospital directors refused and were dismissed from their jobs. The agreement was that his trip would not exceed a week, but as was the norm with the Iraqi regime, Abdulaziz was detained in Kirkuk (Northern Iraq) for more than a month. Meanwhile, one of his employees, Mohammad Ashour, deputy head of blood bank laboratories was constantly at the Blood Bank to ensure that things were running smoothly, and kept Abdulaziz’s family who were in Kuwait up to date regarding his welfare.

Phase four

This phase begins following the allied forces completion of preparations for the air strike. Abdulaziz took advantage of the chaos and mayhem amidst the ranks of Iraqi forces situated in the north of Iraq, and with the assistance of some Iraqis opposed to Saddam’s regime, he was able to return to Kuwait. The air strike was instrumental in allowing him to resume his work in the Blood Bank. He also played a pivotal role in reinstating all directors to their posts again.

  • Phase five

Abdulaziz provided blood supplies for members of the resistance during the first days of the liberation of Kuwait. He also drew up the necessary plan to order materials and equipment that would enable the Blood Bank to resume its tasks.

Abdulaziz Bashir and the Blood Bank

These two names are synonymous in the establishment of blood transfusion services in the State of Kuwait. Since specialising in Haematology and Blood Transfusion in the UK in 1969, Abdulaziz sought to find the ideal location for the Blood Bank. He also had to convince officials in the Ministry of Health to focus on blood transfusion services due to their importance in all medical procedures.

Abdulaziz found a suitable place to meet all the requirements of a Blood Bank at that time. It was in Sharq area and work started on it in 1970. His aim was limited at that point to equipping it with machinery and laboratory equipment that directly contributed to raising the Blood Bank’s production efficiency in quantity and quality.

In 1972, Abdulaziz added Kuwaiti expertise to the Blood Bank work force. Graduates from the UK like Mrs. Sameera Al Bader and Mrs. Faiqha AlTabtabaii both of whom were a great help to him in improving the Blood Bank operations and training staff.

A few years later, the internal structure changed by developing a blood donation unit. The first mobile unit was imported in 1976 to collect blood donations from public places. Abdulaziz and his colleagues exerted tremendous and assiduous efforts to raise awareness of the importance of donating blood to meet hospital needs. He utilised the media and drew up plans to educate youngsters at an early age by introducing the science of blood transfusion in the curricula of the Ministry of Education and Kuwait University. He also arranged field trips for students to visit the Blood Bank and have a closer insight into the importance of blood donation.

Abdulaziz concentrated on developing blood transfusion services and created a professional staff by applying the programme he devised for continuous education for all categories; doctors, technicians, nurses, administrators, and ancillary workers. He was a firm believer that progress and advancement in any job depended upon the person executing it.

Abdulaziz began to outline the ultimate goal, which was to establish a permanent headquarters for the Central Blood Bank, in accordance with the huge leap achieved by the Ministry of Health to provide the best health care services, and its belief in the importance of blood transfusion services. Hence, his daily toil began to choose a prime location for the Central Blood Bank in the State of Kuwait. He repeatedly visited the most developed countries in blood transfusion services to select the best design for the Central Blood Bank building.

The result of his painstaking hard work, daily follow up and supervision over the smallest details was the establishment of the existing Central Blood Bank in Jabriyah area near Mubarak hospital which was specifically designed for this purpose. It was set up with state of the art equipment and handpicked staff in line with international standards.

With the Health Minister during the Inauguration of Kuwait Central Blood Bank         Speech during the inauguration

The blood bank was officially inaugurated on April 14th 1987. It began competing on both regional and international levels. It presented the most up to date international standards in administration, screening and services that contribute to providing blood and blood derivatives, ensuring the blood is safe and free from diseases. Thus, the Blood Bank was listed under the Department for Blood Transfusion Services.

Blood screening continued like screening for Malaria in 1987, and screening for antibodies to Hepatitis B surface core in December 1992. Credit goes to Dr. Abdulaziz for precedence over all Arab countries in introducing this test to the Blood Bank. In the same year, screening was introduced to test antibodies to Hepatitis C, which played a role in preventing the transmission of the virus to patients through blood transfusion. In 1994, Abdulaziz and the blood bank team introduced screening for Human T-Lymphotropic Virus 2,1 and screening for the antigen virus in 1997. The Blood Bank has always lead the way in introducing such screening considering that it is vital to prevent the transmission of diseases to patients through blood transfusion.

Abdulaziz was keen to introduce treatment to patients in need of changing blood due to the existence of antibodies, proteins and blood cancer that need to be flushed out. Therefore, in 1983, he and his colleagues founded a blood separation therapeutic unit by separating cells. At that time there were 9 patients who were being treated over 21 therapeutic sessions. In 2001 the number of patients reached 15 having 106 therapeutic sessions. Finally, the blood bank headed by Abdulaziz was rewarded for introducing the classification of various human blood group systems under a common nomenclature ISBT in March 1998. This gave Kuwait precedence over the whole of the Middle East and some European countries. Kuwait was elected a member of the International Council for Commonality in Blood Banking Automation ICCBBA by the Middle East and Europe Technical Advisory Group MEETAG. Abdulaziz was promoted to Assistant Undersecretary for Blood Transfusion Services in recognition of his invaluable work to support blood transfusion services in the Arab region.

Abdulaziz’s role with the media

Since assuming responsibility, Abdulaziz was intent on having a cordial relationship with the media (visual, audio and written).

With the media

He was keen to explain the important role the Blood Bank plays in society. The media had a key role in highlighting the importance of voluntary blood donation and raising awareness amongst the population to prompt them to continue donating blood. He also paved the way for his colleagues to connect with the media through interviews and events in order to highlight the Blood Bank’s identity to the full. On his retirement in 2005, he was appointed as an advisor to the Blood Bank and an honorary advisor to Arab blood banks. He continued to draw up plans for establishing a centre for stem cell research, which would be affiliated to the Blood Bank and was granted the land to build the centre. Unfortunately, Abdulaziz was not able to fulfil his dream and see the project through, having succumbed to illness that consequently led to his demise.

Since the early sixties, Abdulaziz had always brought blood bank employees together as one big caring family through regular meetings, enjoying meals together or seasonal desert outings. This was to alliviate any inhibition employees may have. During desert camping, Abdulaziz cooked, kept the camp in order and played practical jokes on his friends. Putting aside work formalities, he was able to create a relaxed family atmosphere with his colleagues at work who saw in him a father, a friend and a human being. This in turn encouraged them to carry out their duties wholeheartedly. He was the essence of humanity … why not? He chose a vocation that expects nothing less.