Nearly 1 in 37 women in Sub-Saharan Africa risk maternal death compared to 1 in 7,800 in Australia and New Zealand. That means women in Sub-Saharan Africa, are 210 times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in Australia and New Zealand. More than 295,000 women around the world died from maternal mortality in 2017.
Two-thirds of them – 196,000 – were in Sub-Saharan Africa. The most common cause of these maternal deaths is severe bleeding, with an estimated 25 per cent due to blood shortages.
Africa needs blood to effectively manage and prevent people dying unnecessarily from pregnancy-related complications, postnatal care, trauma, severe childhood anaemia, and cancer due to shortages and lack of access to blood and blood components.
The problem is complex. Awareness, education and a combined public-private approach are needed and take time and momentum.
Today, you can make a difference by donating blood.
Chronic Shortage of Blood
Sub-Saharan African blood donation faces enormous logistical and cultural limitations. According to the World Health Organisation, 1 percent of a country’s population needs to donate blood to meet annual requirements.
However, in 2019, Kenya collected only 164,000 units against a target of 470,000.
In 2017, the Tanzanian National Blood Transfusion Services (NBTS) reported that only an estimated 36 per cent of its annual requirement had been collected. South Sudan continues to face a chronic shortfall, due in part to a health system that is weakened by lack of investment and human resources according to WHO.
This is the case for many Sub-Saharan African countries except for Rwanda whose blood donation rose to 80,000 units in 2019.
COVID-19 Further Impacting Blood Supply
The situation has worsened in the COVID-19 pandemic. In Sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 70 per cent of blood collections are from students in government schools.
As part of their response to COVID-19, many Sub-Saharan African governments have closed schools for an indeterminate period. As a result, both family replacement and voluntary donations have decreased dramatically due to restricted access to medical facilities and citizens being encouraged to limit movements and self-isolate.
In South Africa for example, the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) in March 2020 reported that it had only 5 days’ worth of blood in stock, with a meagre 36 per cent left of universal blood type O negative, and even scarier, 0.7 days’ worth of platelet stock.
Social distancing measures have all but halted blood donation drives. This year’s World Blood Donor day theme “Give blood and make the world a healthier place” calls for a renewed focus on the contribution an individual blood donor can make to improve the health of their communities.
Hopefully, the global attention around World Blood Donor Day will inspire people to donate blood, while observing government-stipulated social distancing guidelines.
The Global Blood Fund (GBF) in collaboration with Terumo BCT and several national blood service organizations is rolling out information, awareness and education campaign via traditional and social media.
Together, they hope to inspire healthy adults in Ghana, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya to donate blood during this critical time. Such partnerships, collaboration and information exchange across public and private sectors are one of the recommended WHO objectives for all countries, to help address challenges and emerging threats that impact safe and accessible blood at global, regional and national levels.
By improving the availability and safety of blood transfusion systems, Sub-Saharan Africa can reduce the number of maternal deaths which stood at 86 per cent in 2017 according to WHO.
The benefits of safe sustainable blood supply on the continent would not be limited to mothers and children, treatment of many other prolific diseases such as malaria, cancer, sickle cell and anaemia require transfusions and necessitate having a robust blood management system in place.
Don’t Wait, Donate
On June 14th the world is celebrating World Blood Donor Day. Please donate blood to help achieve access to adequate, safe and sustainable blood supply.
The writer is Government Affairs Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), Terumo BCT.