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More investment in blood is key to better healthcare for Africa

Monday June 17 2019

blood donation, Mombasa

Mombasa residents donate blood for victims of Dusit complex terror attack in Nairobi at Koblenz Hall in Mombasa on January 16, 2019. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

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Across the globe, blood continues to be more in demand than ever before.

The many reasons for that include rising numbers of non-communicable diseases, increasing availability of new surgeries, national and institutional policies, lack of infrastructure and trained personnel, and limited financial resources to support a voluntary non-remunerated donor transfusion service — not to mention existing and emerging threats of transfusion-transmitted infection.

These factors limit supply.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates Kenya’s annual blood requirement at 450,000 units, which is expected to rise with population growth. That means, to achieve blood sufficiency, at least one per cent of Kenyans must donate blood once a year.

However, too few blood donors, lack of prioritisation for blood in the health development agenda, minimal investment in the blood sector and capacity gaps in the healthcare system are all major obstacles to meeting this target.

Sadly, the people most affected by the blood shortage are women and children, especially during childbirth. Post-partum haemorrhage (blood loss after delivery) is the leading cause of maternal deaths in the first 24 hours after childbirth.


According to WHO, post-partum haemorrhage contributes to 35 per cent of total maternal deaths annually. This is a particular problem for women in rural areas who give birth at home and are often far away from proper healthcare.

Africa has substantially reduced maternal and child mortality. According to the “Sustainable Development Report 2018”, the maternal mortality rate in Sub-Saharan Africa has dropped 35 per cent since 2000 while mortality rate for children under five halved.

However, Sub-Saharan Africa is progressing more slowly than the other regions and contains 25 of the 30 lowest-ranked countries in which to give birth.


For Africa to reach its blood requirements, more investment and leadership are vital. The public and private sectors must begin to look at blood differently: Not just as a resource in the health system but a key component in the survival of humanity.

An example of this mindset is Beyond Zero, an initiative started by Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta with a clear goal: No woman should die while giving birth. The team works with stakeholders in the public and private sectors to invest resources and finances to promote the health and well-being of women and children.

Similar leadership, energy and investment are needed to strengthen the nation’s blood readiness.

Access to safe, sustainable and quality blood and blood components is the key to better healthcare and health services. A healthy nation is central to human happiness and well-being. It also makes an important contribution to economic progress since healthy populations live longer, are more productive and save more.

There is a need for stakeholders to invest more in blood. We can turn today’s shortages into tomorrow’s success with more concerted and sustainable efforts by all stakeholders. Governments and development partners should allocate more funds in the blood sector; individuals donate blood more regularly; NGOs and community groups raise awareness; the private sector continue investing to innovate blood management; and academia invest more in research around blood safety.

Life is fragile, and blood is a constant holding it together. It is a key component to achieving number three of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Healthy lives and well-being for all.

I believe this year’s World Blood Donor Day on June 14 reminded us that many complex surgical procedures and disease treatments require blood. Donating blood saves lives.

Ms Mugyenyi is the manager, Sub-Sahara Africa - Government Affairs and Public Policy, at Terumo BCT. [email protected]