This is a story about a social bank. A social bank that continues to run dry because of more withdrawals compared to deposits. Furthermore, there seem to be glaring failures in persuading members of the public not only to open accounts at the bank but to also make regular deposits. This is the story of our blood bank—a core institution of our social well-being. Without more accounts and regular deposits, lives will continue to be at risk. Accordingly, it is about time we take a more serious look into the issues affecting more account openings and regular deposits.
Much has already been done—from high-level discussions and glowing webinars to major media campaigns all over the continent—all meant to interest new account openings and more regular blood donations. However, the numbers are not there yet. For example, over the past couple of years, Kenya has sadly only been collecting roughly 30% of its annual 1 million blood unit target, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). That leaves very many patients in need of transfusions at risk of death. The Kenyan shortfall is only but a single example of the greater African problem.
That is as highlighted by the African Report 2021, which decried the relatively low blood donations in sub-Saharan Africa—a situation that was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, these shortfalls see over , especially due to birth-related complications. Other affected populations include patients with sickle cell disease, haemophilia, malaria, and cancer. Consequently, the issue of dry blood banks is riveting and needs to be dealt with once and for all. We need to review and more effectively handle the various challenges plaguing regular blood donations.
According to various reports, misinformation and disinformation regarding blood donation are one of the largest shortcomings of mass blood donor recruitment for regular blood donations. For example, most potential donors in Africa don’t donate due to fear of contracting infections in the process, amongst other things. That in itself calls for a more spirited campaign strategy in public education on the subject matter.
In addition, we also need to rethink the incentive structures surrounding blood donation. That is because even with the current incentives such as soft drinks after a successful donation exercise, potential blood donors are still not as inspired to donate. Indeed, most people have been observed to only donate blood when a close friend or relative is in need at a hospital. And sometimes, without any regard to the incentives offered. The question, therefore, ought to be, “how do we give better incentives if any to inspire more regular blood donations, that could have a similar effect as when donating only for close friends or relatives?”
The latter also calls for a more systematic approach to understanding the Knowledge, Attitudes, and Psychology (KAP) of potential blood donors. It is simply not enough to educate and create awareness without understanding the target audience. Fortunately, efforts toward this front are currently ongoing. For example, , to conduct a research study mainly aimed at understanding the KAP of potential blood donors. And after understanding the KAP, to come up with practical suggestions and solutions to improving blood donations.
The use of technology for better blood donation outcomes has also been recommended by various quarters. Once again, Damu Sasa is also leading the way in Kenya on this. that as a key highlight, employs google maps to link blood donors to the nearest blood donation centres, for their commute convenience. That is in addition to enabling the blood donors to make remote blood donation appointments as well as having their donation history sent directly to their phones after every blood donation exercise. Damu Sasa also offers the same services via a USSD platform (*483*277#). That means any Kenyan with a phone can easily become a blood donor.
The Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service (KNBTS) has also been working round the clock to set up new blood donation centres across the country. The move is in a bid to ensure that potential blood donors have easier access to blood donation facilities, among other things. That would greatly edge the country towards realizing our annual blood collection target.
The private sector also needs to be effectively and continuously roped in to fill in various gaps to form a complete regular blood donation cycle. It is not enough to only involve them only around major events such as World Blood Donor Day every June. Indeed, patients need blood every day both before and after June. I believe that they can do so much more.
All the above has the potential to go a long way in ensuring no-more-dry banks—banks that will always have new account openings and more regular deposits.
The Author is a Strategic Partnerships Specialist based in Nairobi; Kenya.