By Bukar Bolori
The World Health Organisation has said around seven million patients require blood to safe their lives annually on the African continent.
A message by the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti to mark the World Blood Donor Day, said the theme of the year’s celebration is “Give blood and keep the world beating”, chosen because fewer people have been donating blood during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said: “However, there are still around seven million patients who require this life-saving product in African countries every year.”
Moeti noted that safe blood and its transfusion are key aspects in providing quality care to save mothers haemorrhaging during childbirth and people with serious injuries.
She said: “Blood is needed for surgical procedures, as well as to treat severe anaemia, inherited blood disorders, and other conditions. Blood can only be stored for a limited time and so a steady supply of donations is important to make sure adequate blood products are always available.”
She disclosed that that as part of the COVID-19 response, 10 African countries are investigating the use of COVID-19 convalescent plasma (CCP) therapy, noting that among these countries, Ethiopia, Guinea and Mauritius have collected CCP for compassionate use and randomized control trials are ongoing in South Africa and Uganda.
She lamented that over the past year, blood stocks decreased in the African Region as movement restrictions and fears of infection hindered people from accessing donation sites.
Moeti decried that: “The average blood donation rate dropped by 17% and the frequency of blood drives reduced by 25%. Demand for blood also decreased by 13% with the suspension of routine surgeries in some countries and fewer people seeking care in health facilities.”
She added that: “However, even during the pandemic, blood donors in many countries have made extraordinary efforts to continue to donate blood. Awareness campaigns backed by the collaboration of donor associations, civil society organisations, and armed and security forces, have led to good levels of voluntary donor recruitment in eight African countries.”
She said: “As WHO we are working with a range of stakeholders to improve access to quality blood supplies. We have partnered with the Coalition of Blood for Africa (CoBA), launched in November 2020, to drive this agenda, including engaging the Organization of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD) and the private sector. The BloodSafe Program funded by the United States of America National Institutes of Health supports research to enhance availability of safe blood in African countries. Through this partnership, research projects in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi are underway in collaboration with universities in the United States.”
Moeti disclosed that: “In partnership with Facebook, we have set-up a Regional Blood Donations feature, which connects people with nearby blood banks. The tool is now live in 12 countries and over 3.8 million Facebook users have signed-up to be notified of blood donation opportunities.
“We are encouraging more young people to donate blood to save lives and to inspire their peers and families to do so too. In some countries, in line with national guidance, people aged 16 and 17 can donate blood with their parent’s or guardian’s consent, and in all countries anyone over 18 can save someone’s life by donating blood.”
She said: “On this World Blood Donor Day, I urge governments, in collaboration with blood donor associations and nongovernmental organizations, to put in place the systems and infrastructure needed to increase the collection of blood from voluntary donors.
“To all those who have donated blood, I thank you, and I encourage everyone to give this life-saving gift.”
On every 14 June, WHO celebrates World Blood Donor Day to raise awareness of the need for safe blood and blood products, like plasma. This day is also an opportunity to thank and appreciate voluntary, unpaid blood donors for this life-saving gift.