By Zayamu Hassan
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed that there are still around seven million patients who require blood and its related life-saving products in African countries every year.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, disclosed this in a statement to mark the 2021 Blood Donor Day.
The theme for this year’s World Blood Donor Day is “Give blood and keep the world beating.”
She, therefore, emphasized the need for steady and regular blood donation in order to make blood products available to those who need them.
Reiterating the relevance of safe blood, she said: “Safe blood and its transfusion are key aspects in providing quality care to save mothers haemorrhaging during childbirth and people with serious injuries.
“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,” Moeti said.
She, therefore, called on 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.
According to her, the WHO is working with stakeholders to improve access to quality blood supplies.
She said: “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,” she said.
The WHO regional director added that in partnership with Facebook, the agency has 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, however, revealed that as part of the COVID-19 response, 10 African countries are investigating the use of COVID-19 convalescent plasma (CCP) therapy.
She stated that Ethiopia, Guinea and Mauritius have collected CCP for compassionate use and randomized control trials are ongoing in South Africa and Uganda.
Moeti also revealed 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.
“The average blood donation rate dropped by 17 percent, the frequency of blood drives reduced by 25 percent, while demand for blood also decreased by 13 percent with the suspension of routine surgeries in some countries and fewer people seeking care in health facilities.
“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 organizations, and armed and security forces, have led to good levels of voluntary donor recruitment in eight African countries,” she said.