This year, the theme for the 2021 World Blood Donor Day is “Give Blood and Keep the World Beating”, highlighting the vital contribution of regular voluntary unpaid blood donors towards saving lives and improving the health of others.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a special focus of this year’s campaign is the role of youths in ensuring that every country has a safe blood supply. In many countries, young people have led activities and initiatives aimed at achieving safe blood supplies through voluntary, non-remunerated blood donations. In Nigeria, youths make up more than half of the country’s population, and with their creativity and enthusiasm, they hold the key to sustainable safe blood supplies.
The demand for safe blood and blood products has been on the increase and therefore, access to safe, quality, and affordable blood and blood products is critical. It is of utmost importance that Nigeria has an adequate supply of blood and blood products to meet this increase in demand to substantially reduce the mortality rate associated with life-threatening diseases, trauma cases from victims of road accidents, casualties of bomb blasts, anaemia in children, bleeding in pregnancy and women during childbirth, victims of insurgency, conflict, and tragic building collapses.
Conflict and insurgency have given rise to the deaths of over 40,000 people, causing many to flee from their homes and communities with over 2.5 million displaced people and nearly a quarter of a million internally displaced persons (IDPs). The United Nations recently reported that in 2020, up to 10.6 million out of the 13 million people in conflict-ravaged states would require humanitarian assistance.
Additionally, low- and middle-income countries such as Nigeria have been reported to be responsible for up to 90 per cent of the entire global burden of traumatic injuries, with significant impact on mortality, disability, and quality of life.
Preventing deaths due to blood loss would, in a significant way, greatly rely on having a ready stock of safely screened blood units that can quickly be mobilised during emergencies to save as many lives as possible. The mobilisation of sufficient units of safe blood is a challenge especially where national blood systems are under-developed.
National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) relies on a pool of regular donations by voluntary, unpaid blood donors, and currently collects and screens approximately tens of thousands of blood units each year, making these units of blood available to patients following requests from over three thousand partner hospitals across Nigeria.
However, across the country, less than five per cent of the total blood donations are sourced from voluntary donors and the rest are commercially provided, subjecting recipients to the risks of infections such as HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and syphilis.
WHO recommends a stock of at least two million screened blood units for a country of Nigeria’s population, and reports voluntary blood donation rates in low-income countries to be seven times less than donations in high-income countries, with about 118.5 million blood units collected annually worldwide, out of which only 15 per cent are sourced from voluntary unpaid donors. Several fears, including fears of HIV, unsterile needles, blood loss, mental illness and sudden death are amongst reported misconceptions discouraging many would-be donors.
Research has also revealed a wide gap between awareness of voluntary blood donation and actual commitment to donating blood among young populations. Every country therefore needs a strong base of voluntary unpaid donors in order to ensure that everyone who needs safe blood has access to it.
NBTS has rolled out a ten-year strategic plan which includes the “One Million Safe Blood Units Initiative” to address this gap and ensure that at least one million units of safely screened blood are available year-round, accessible to Nigerians, and can be swiftly mobilised from national reserves when needed.
In our opinion the National Strategic Safe Blood Reserve is the vehicle that Nigeria needs to muster a quick response in a case of emergency where large quantity of blood is required to save life. An increase in the number of voluntary unpaid donations especially from young people, to meet the rising needs for safe blood and blood products across the country is therefore central to this initiative.
According to data from the Federal Ministry of Health, up to 10 per cent of new HIV infections in Nigeria are due to unsafe blood transfusions. Bearing this in mind, we call for sanctions against unscrupulous providers of blood services in order to protect the health of Nigerians.