Every year on 14 June, the African Region joins the global community to commemorate World Blood Donor Day. The theme of this year’s celebration is focused on blood donation in emergencies, specifically for those who want to help. “What can you do? Give blood. Give now. Give often.”
Everybody can play a role in emergency situations by giving blood. Blood transfusion is an essential component of emergency healthcare. This year’s theme raises awareness for voluntary, regular blood donations to maintain sufficient stock of blood and blood products in blood transfusion services. It is also an opportunity to thank and appreciate voluntary blood donors for their valuable blood gifts.
The choice of this theme is particularly significant for the African Region which is most affected by crises and outbreaks, such as the Ebola virus disease epidemic, road traffic accidents, armed conflicts, natural or manmade disasters. Such emergencies increase the demand for blood transfusion and make its delivery challenging. Many victims of these crises die because of lack of blood and blood products, or risk infection when transfused with unsafe blood. The serious humanitarian crises facing Africa in recent decades have revealed inadequacies of national health systems in most countries to manage health emergencies, including the timely availability, security and the accessibility of blood.
However, significant progress has been made recently in improving the availability and safety of blood in the African Region. The 2016 report on the status on blood safety and availability in the WHO African Region shows that several countries have improved their blood availability and safety in terms of the World Health Assembly and Regional Committee resolutions on blood safety. Collecting blood from voluntary, unpaid and regular blood donors has been shown to be safer, more effective and more efficient than family replacement donations. The number of blood donations in the Region increased between 2013 and 2016, from 3.9 million units to 4.5 million units. However, this meets only about 50% of the annual need for blood and blood products.
Despite this progress, there are still major gaps in some countries and sub-regions, including policy implementation rate, coordination of blood services and legislation. The Region is still falling short of meeting its blood needs and the proportion of blood units collected from family replacement donors is still high. Five countries are still not screening all units of blood for major transfusion transmitted infections such as hepatitis C and syphilis due to a lack of essential reagents and consumables for blood safety, and the lack of quality management systems in several blood services in the Region.
I urge countries and all the stakeholders involved in blood donations to support and strengthen advocacy for voluntary, unpaid blood donations to maintain adequate supplies of safe blood. This will allow national blood transfusion services to respond in time to the increase in blood demand, especially during emergencies.
I thank all voluntary blood donors and encourage them to continue giving this valuable gift regularly to ensure sufficient blood stock before emergencies arise. I congratulate and express my support to blood donor associations and other non-governmental organizations and all those who are working to make safe blood available in healthcare facilities.
The WHO Regional Office for Africa will continue to support all appropriate initiatives aimed at ensuring that safe, life-saving blood and blood products are available for all, particularly those in emergency situations. Give blood. Give now. Give often!
By Dr Matshidiso Moeti
WHO Regional Director for Africa.