Focus more on young people to end perennial shortage of blood

A section of boda boda riders participating in blood donation drive at Kisumu transfusion center on April 19, 2021. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

During World Blood Donor Day, the world comes together to celebrate blood donors and create greater awareness on the need for safe sustainable blood and blood products for transfusion and on the critical contribution voluntary blood donors make to national health systems.

The World Blood Donor Day will be marked today under the theme, ‘Give blood and keep the world beating’ with a special focus on the youth and their role in ensuring sustainable blood supply globally and especially in developing countries in Africa. Safe blood products and their transfusion are a critical aspect of care and public health.

They save millions of lives and improve the health and quality of life of many patients every day. The need for blood is universal, but access to all those who need it is not.

Enduring challenges

In sub-Saharan Africa, too many people, especially young children and mothers, die each day due to the unavailability of blood. One of the biggest challenges is the accessibility to safe and adequate quantities of blood and blood products.

Communities in Africa face several enduring challenges: Chronic blood shortages, high prevalence of transfusion-transmissible infections, recruitment and retention of voluntary non-remunerated donors, family replacement and commercial blood donation.

Andrew Mwangi (right) receives a flower from a red cross official while donating blood in Nakuru on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2021. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected blood donations. School closures, which have significantly affected blood supply, have brought to the limelight the fact that over-reliance on students for blood donation is not sustainable.

The fear of Covid-19 infections has also made some potential donors to stay away from health facilities. This means that most countries are already operating on a blood shortfall.

Uninterrupted supply

Addressing these challenges should be a central priority for most blood transfusion services, particularly in sub-Saharan African countries, to ensure uninterrupted supply of safe blood and blood products.

These can only be addressed if people develop a culture of blood donation, especially while they are still young. Other sustainable solutions to encourage more young people to become regular non-remunerated blood donors on the continent should be devised.

Data from the United Nations’ World Population Prospects 2019 is a stark reminder of Africa’s youthful population. Almost 60 per cent of Africa’s population is under the age of 25, making Africa the world’s youngest continent. The numbers are set to grow.

The creativity and innovation of the continent’s youthful population can play a key role in addressing some of the pressing challenges facing the continent, especially in the health sector, such as access to blood.

Most blood and health campaigns are generic and tired. There is a need to develop campaigns and solutions that are targeted at young people. There is an opportunity to reach them through platforms they consume most, such as social media, music, peer-to-peer networking and just speaking their language.

There is also need to bring the youth to the heart of policy discussions on matters of blood. They are the future of the continent and getting their buy-in now can ensure that the challenge of blood shortage is significantly addressed/minimised in the future.

Pauline Nasimiyu donates blood during Valentine's Day blood donation drive at Muliro Gardens, Kakamega County, February 14, 2021. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The Coalition of Blood for Africa brings together a multitude of public, private, and community organisations from across the world with the goal of saving lives by making blood accessible, sustainable and safe across Africa. 

In this context, it is of paramount importance to recruit and retain young voluntary non-remunerated blood donors that provide the safest possible blood for use in health facilities wherever and whenever it is needed.

There has never been a better time than now to rethink and find more sustainable solutions to blood donation in the continent. The youth are full of enthusiasm, creativity and idealism and we need to tap into their potential and put them in the driver’s seat in steering the culture of blood donation in Africa.

Innovative ways

Countries like Zimbabwe have been able to tap into the youth population through Pledge 25 and are now able to collect more blood. More African countries have an opportunity to emulate these example. Innovative ways to recruit and retain young donors need to be devised. The future of Africa is our youth and the health and wealth of the continent is dependent on their involvement. Sustainable, safe and accessible blood supply will only be achieved when the youth are involved.

This World Blood Donor Day young people are called upon to register and be regular blood donors as well as ambassadors of blood wherever they are. You can save a mother, a child or just a relative or friend by the simple act of blood donation. Let us donate blood today.