In the lead up to World Blood Donor Day on June 14, global health leaders recently convened in Kinshasa, DRC, to reassess blood transfusion as an important element in helping to achieve the health goals adopted as part of the United Nations Millennium Declaration. The goals included reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and combating HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases.
Health leaders at the symposium urged people on the continent to recognize World Blood Donor Day by learning about the life-saving nature of blood and blood products. Launched by the World Health Organization, the purpose of this annual initiative is to increase awareness of blood transfusion as a life-saving therapy that affects millions of lives every year.
“Blood transfusion is central to the management of many life-threatening diseases, but severe blood shortages are being experienced throughout Africa. Women and children are the most affected, with 99 percent of maternal deaths occurring in developing countries and more than half in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Stefan Boll, general manager of Diagnostics Products, Francophone and Southern Africa, Abbott. “Africa is also home to 15 of the 16 countries with an under-five mortality rate above 100 deaths per 1,000 live births.”
Blood shortages can also contribute to an increased risk of HIV and hepatitis because an inadequate stock of blood forces a reliance on unsafe donors. Unsafe blood transfusions have contributed to the burden of HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa. 3 Women and children account for a disproportionate number of HIV infections through unsafe blood as they are the main groups of patients receiving transfusions. For example, data from 30 African countries indicate that, in 2004, transfusion-transmissible infections were detected in 183,000 units of blood (9.8 percent) which were subsequently discarded.3
World leaders called for government support, both technical and financial in developing sustainable models, which can meet the transfusion needs of their patient populations. The experts at the meeting in Kinshasa showed a strong call to the public and private sectors on providing support in implementing new technologies for blood testing and blood processing to alleviate the risk associated with manual sample handling.
“There is an urgent need for global advocacy and coordinated efforts to focus on the impact safe blood transfusions could have across Africa,” said Boll. “Abbott is committed to bringing our global knowledge and expertise in blood screening to Africa. With this group collaboration, we believe we can help to improve the quality and safety of blood products, making this life-saving therapy a possibility in this continent.”