By Mary Hearty

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged African governments to prioritize the provision of adequate human and financial resources to secure the future of national blood transfusion services.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa on World Blood Donor Day- 14 June, 2022, themed: Donating blood is an act of solidarity. Join the effort and save lives, noted in a statement that blood service that gives patients access to safe blood and blood products, in sufficient quantities, is a key component of an effective health system.

Despite the African region working hard to improve blood donation frequency through initiatives like public awareness campaigns and establishing call centers, the situation remains challenging due to issues such as staff shortages and limited funding from governments and partner organizations for effective blood donor education, recruitment, and retention, she said.

Compared to other Regions globally, Dr Moeti said the African Region sees a disproportionate number of conditions requiring donor blood, impacting as many as seven million patients every year.

Examples include hemorrhage associated with pregnancy and childbirth, severe anaemia due to malaria and malnutrition, bone marrow and inherited blood disorders, trauma and accidents, as well as man-made and natural disasters.

Dr Sarah Mbao Bogo, a gynaecologist at Blanche Gomes Mother & Child Hospital in Brazzaville, knows only too well the importance of the timely availability of blood.

“Each week we have at least three to four complications linked to haemorrhaging. These cases come to us almost entirely from (other regions). For our patients here, as soon as we detect the risk, the patient is taken care of properly before they lose blood. However, when patients come from elsewhere, the situation is usually serious by the time they arrive. So, many die from haemorrhage,” Dr. Bogo said.

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the situation as voluntary unpaid blood donations dropped significantly. Malawi, for example, registered a 46% decrease in donations.

To resolve this, Dr Moeti called for partnerships and collaborations with the media, the private sector, and faith-based and non-governmental organizations to increase the recruitment and retention of voluntary unpaid blood donors.

The WHO is providing technical expertise to countries to develop strategies and structures for safe and sufficient blood supply.

“This is the case, for example, in the context of haemovigilance, i.e., the health monitoring system relating to blood transfusion, or even good transfusion practices, the rational use of blood so that there is no wastage, etc. These are all tools that allow the authorities to have perfect control of the blood supply chain,” says Dr André Loua, Regional Advisor on Blood Safety at the WHO Regional Office for Africa.

The programme provides policy guidance and technical assistance to countries for ensuring universal access to safe blood and blood products and work towards self-sufficiency in safe blood and blood products based on voluntary unpaid blood donation to achieve universal health coverage.