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WORLD SICKLE CELL DAY

You can save lives today by donating blood

Sub-Saharan African blood donation faces enormous logistical and cultural limitations.

In Summary

• On June 19. the world will be celebrating World Sickle Cell Day.

• To help save 50–90 per cent of children born with sickle cell disease in Africa, please donate blood to help achieve access to adequate, safe and sustainable blood supply.

Health CAS Rashid Aman donates blood at KICC on June 12, 2020 during the ongoing donation drive
LEADING: Health CAS Rashid Aman donates blood at KICC on June 12, 2020 during the ongoing donation drive
Image: MAGDALINE SAYA

 Three-quarters of the world’s sickle cell disease patients live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Approximately 1,000 children in Africa are born with sickle cell disease every day and more than half will die before they reach five.

Sickle cell disease (also known as sickle cell disorder or sickle cell anemia) is an inherited genetic condition, where the normal round shape of red blood cells mutate to a crescent shape. The mutated cells cause lifelong complications to the body, including anemia, stroke, organ failure, extremely painful episodes and premature death.

Treatment of sickle cell disease includes pain-related medication and blood transfusion.

Africa faces various challenges in management of the disease such as scarce health resources and inadequate awareness among healthcare providers as well as the general public. Importantly, Africa needs blood, which is key to treatment of sickle cell disease.

The problem is complex but you can make a difference by donating blood.

In addition, awareness, education and a combined public-private approach are needed and take time and momentum.

Chronic Shortage of Blood

Sub-Saharan African blood donation faces enormous logistical and cultural limitations. One per cent of a country’s population needs to donate blood to meet annual requirements, according to the World Health Organization.

However, in 2019, Kenya collected only 164,000 units against a target of 470,000. In 2017, the Tanzanian National Blood Transfusion Services reported that only an estimated 36 per cent of its annual requirement had been collected.

South Sudan continues to face a chronic shortfall, partly due to a health system weakened by lack of investment and human resource, according to WHO. This is the case for many sub-Saharan African countries, except for Rwanda, whose blood donation rose to 80,000 units in 2019. 

The situation has worsened in the Covid-19 pandemic. Approximately 70 per cent of blood collections are from students in government schools. As part of their response to Covid-19, many sub-Saharan African governments have closed schools for an indeterminate period. As a result, both family replacement and voluntary donations have decreased dramatically due to restricted access to medical facilities and citizens being encouraged to limit movements and self-isolate.

For example, the South African National Blood Service in March reported that it had only five days’ worth of blood in stock, with a meagre 36 per cent left of universal blood type O negative, and even scarier, 0.7 days’ worth of platelet stock.   

Social distancing measures have all but halted blood donation drives. This year’s World Blood Donor day theme “Give blood and make the world a healthier place” celebrated on June 14 called for a renewed focus on the contribution an individual blood donor can make to improve the health of their communities. Hopefully, the global attention around World Blood Donor Day inspired people to donate blood, while observing government-stipulated social distancing guidelines.

The power of collaboration

The Global Blood Fund in collaboration with Terumo BCT and several national blood service organisations is rolling out an information, awareness and education campaign via traditional and social media.

Together, they hope to inspire healthy adults in Ghana, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya to donate blood during this critical time and to boost blood supplies to help patients, such as those with sickle cell disease symptoms.

Such partnerships, collaboration and information exchange across public and private sectors are one of the recommended WHO objectives for all countries, to help address challenges and emerging threats that impact safe and accessible blood at global, regional and national levels.

The benefits of a safe sustainable blood supply on the continent would enable treatment of many prolific diseases such as malaria, cancer, sickle cell disease, that require transfusions and necessitate having a robust blood management system in place. 

On June 19. the world will be celebrating World Sickle Cell Day.To help save 50–90 per cent of children born with sickle cell disease in Africa, please donate blood to help achieve access to adequate, safe and sustainable blood supply.

Philana Mugyenyi is the Government Affairs manager for sub-Saharan Africa at Terumo BCT,