The World Health Organisation (WHO) African region has charged governments and political leaders in the continent to prioritise blood transfusion services, an action if adhered to according to the UN agency could give patients access to safe blood and blood products in sufficient quantities during emergencies.

This was made known in a message by Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa to mark this year’s World Blood Donor Day which comes up June 14th every year.

This year’s theme, Donating blood is an act of solidarity. Join the effort and save lives’, focuses on the critical role of voluntary blood donations in saving lives, and enhancing community solidarity and social cohesion.

The region noted that Africa still lags behind among other communities in the world in terms of the level of blood donation. This low rate of donations has affected million of patients resulting to haemorrhage associated with pregnancy and childbirth, severe anaemia due to malaria and malnutrition, bone marrow and inherited blood disorders, trauma and accidents, as well as man-made and natural disasters.

“While the need for donor blood is universal, access for everyone who needs it is not. In the African Region, demand regularly outstrips supply, negatively impacting timely access for all patients who need safe and quality-assured blood to save their lives,” Dr Moeti stated.

“As a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, voluntary unpaid blood donations dropped significantly. Malawi, for example, registered a 46% decrease in donations.

“Countries across the African Region have worked hard to improve blood donation frequency, and the situation is showing signs of stabilizing. Blood transfusion services in many countries reached out to blood donors through public awareness campaigns, transporting donors from and to their homes, using digital platforms and establishing call centres.

“The situation remains challenging, and it is exacerbated by issues such as staff shortages and limited funding from governments and partners organizations for effective blood donor education, recruitment, and retention.

“As WHO in the African Region, we provide support to countries at various levels, including resource mobilization for the implementation of national blood transfusion plans, advocacy for integrating blood safety in these plans, and strengthening the legal and regulatory framework for blood safety.

“On World Blood Donor Day today, I urge African governments and political leaders to prioritize the provision of adequate human and financial resources to secure the future of national blood transfusion services. A blood service that gives patients access to safe blood and blood products, in sufficient quantities, is a key component of an effective health system.

“Seeking out opportunities for partnerships and collaborations with media, the private sector, and faith-based and non-governmental organizations, will help increase the recruitment and retention of voluntary unpaid blood donors.

“I want to sincerely thank Africa’s blood donors for their selfless contribution to national health systems, through this life-saving gift to patients who need transfusion therapy.

“I also want to acknowledge the tireless efforts of blood services staff who are deeply committed to maintaining critical blood supplies, of the research and development professionals pursuing new technologies and uses for donated blood, as well as the medical teams who use blood rationally to save lives.

“Donating blood is an act of solidarity. By becoming a blood donor, you will help ease the pressure on health systems still struggling under the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic.”