The outbreak of COVID-19 has seen a major plunge in blood reserves in many African countries with the numbers of donors decreasing by the day, a situation that has led a Catholic Bishop in Ghana to appeal to individuals to make blood donation part of their lifestyle.
Launching the National Catholic Blood Donation Campaign on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ on Sunday, June 14, Archbishop John Bonaventure Kwofie of Accra appealed to Ghanaians especially Catholics through the campaign, “to become life-savers by volunteering to donate blood regularly.”
“Continue donating blood to save the many people in need of blood during the coronavirus pandemic era. COVID-19 is with us here, pregnant women in the labor ward urgently need our blood to be alive as well as cancer patients; let’s support them because giving blood is a gift out of kindness,” the Archbishop said.
It was also the day that governments, blood donor associations and non-government organizations celebrated the World Blood Donor Day.
Launch during Holy Mass at the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Accra, the campaign aims at having Catholics donate 2,500 units of Blood between July and December to support the National Blood Service Ghana (NBSG) to save lives.
The campaign is also aimed at stocking blood banks across the Archdiocese of Ghana’s Capital City as a demonstration of commitment on the part of Catholics to making blood donation a lifestyle as part of their social duty and service to humanity, Archbishop Kwofie said.
Unveiling the virtual June 14 campaign under the theme, “Family of God: Give Blood so Others May Live,” the Spiritan Archbishop said that “blood gives life and life is given by God.”
He raised awareness about the global and local need for safe blood and how everyone can contribute and expressed his gratitude to those who have previously donated blood.
Statistics indicate that Ghana has never met its blood requirement. In 2018, only 60,000 units of blood was received from voluntary unpaid donors out of a needed 300,000 units with sometimes surgeries postponed due to lack of blood.
With a Ghanaian Catholic population of almost three million, 30,000 donors, translating to 1 percent of the Catholic population, were expected to donate blood in 2019, but collectively only 2,314 units of Blood were donated between January and November to support the National Blood Service Ghana (NBSG).
Many countries, especially in Africa still have shortage of donors, and thus World Blood Donor Day is vital to raise awareness of blood donation and thus increase supply in order to save as many lives as possible.
Even before the emergence of the new coronavirus, Africa’s blood supply fell short of demand. The pandemic has increased the deficit, raising risks to people needing treatment for ailments and medical emergencies, health officials have said.
“The problem that we are seeing is that we have a reduction in the number of blood donors during this outbreak because people are afraid to go to blood services,” said Dr. Andre Loua, the World Health Organization’s Africa region technical officer for blood safety.
Fears of infection and restrictions on mobility and trade affect the availability of blood. The situation is compounded by a lack of sufficient reagents, bags and other products needed to draw, test and store blood, according to Jean-Baptiste Nikiema, the WHO regional adviser for essential medicine, who joined Loua in a Skype interview with VOA last month.
“We are in for deep trouble if the situation doesn’t improve in the coming months,” Nkiema said, adding that most sub-Saharan African countries have made progress in ensuring blood safety and availability since 2013.
The WHO official spoke from Congo-Brazzaville where WHO has a regional office.
Transfusions most often are needed by women after childbirth, children who are malnourished, anemic or infected with malaria, victims of trauma or accidents and patients with sickle cell anemia.
Many African countries have weak health systems that have been further compromised by COVID-19, Loua said, calling for more aid not only from donors but also from “developed countries, because we don’t have sufficient resources.”
The WHO Advisor also indicated challenges involving convalescent plasma, drawn from recovered COVID-19 patients and used as an experimental therapy to treat new cases, saying that “in sub-Saharan Africa, most countries’ national blood services have sufficient capability … to collect, process and store convalescent plasma in a quality manner.”
WHO acclaims that a country’s annual blood need is about 1 percent of its population. At least 10 whole blood units per 1,000 populations are needed.
In Nigeria, the Lagos State commissioner for health, Akin Abayomi said the state requires about 260,000 units of blood annually to meet with the growing blood transfusion demand at health facilities in the state.
Addressing a virtual audience June 14 in the Zoom Live Feeds that was organized by the Lagos State Blood Transfusion Service (LSBTS) to commemorate this year’s World Blood Donor Day, Abayomi noted that efforts are being intensified by the state government to meet and surpass this requirement through recruiting and retaining voluntary blood donors.
“To maintain an adequate blood supply, one to two percent of the population needs to become regular blood donors; this is about 260,000 in a growing population of over 26 million in Lagos state. The regular supply of blood is essential as the life span of blood is very short,” the health official noted.
He added, “Each unit of blood donated remains viable for 35 days. Thankfully, we are working hard in partnership with the public and private sector, non-governmental organizations, religious bodies, youth organizations to achieve this target.”
In Kenya, reports indicate that COVID-19 has almost split blood donations and created a threatening situation, Kenyan’s Health Ministry is reported to have said in announcing a nationwide blood drive on June 12.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service used to collect at least 450 pints of blood every day. Donations have fallen to roughly 250 pints. The plunge has caused a major strain on the country’s blood bank, according to Dr. Rashid Aman, the chief Administrative Secretary of the blood transfusion unit.
In Ethiopia which, according to latest Worldometer report has about 114 million populations, authorities at the National Blood Bank Service are reported to be alarmed by a precipitous drop in donations – from roughly 300 donations a day in the capital, Addis Ababa, to just under 30 after the emergence of COVID-19.