World Blood Donor Day is a time when 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, unpaid blood donors make to national health systems.
This year, the day is being marked 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 blood for all those who need it is not.
In sub-Saharan Africa too many people, especially young children and mothers, continue to die each day due to the unavailability of blood. One of the biggest challenges is the accessibility of 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 (TTIs), recruitment and retention of voluntary nonremunerated donors, family replacement and commercial blood donation.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen blood donations affected. School closures have brought to the limelight that the overreliance of school–going children for blood donation is not sustainable and this has significantly affected blood supply. And, fear of infection has meant people have stayed away from health facilities. This means that most countries are already operating on a shortfall.
Addressing these challenges should be a central priority for most blood transfusion services, particularly in Sub-Saharan African countries, to ensure the uninterrupted supply of safe blood and blood products. These can only be addressed if people develop a culture of blood donation, especially whilethey are still young. There is a need to devise more sustainable solutions to encourage more young people to become regular non-remunerated blood donors on the continent.
Data from the United Nations’ World Population Prospects 2019, is a stark reminder of Africa’s youthful population.Almost 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25, making Africa the world’s youngest continent. And 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 a 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 can significantly be addressed/minimized in future.
The Coalition of Blood for Africa brings together a multitude of public, private and community organizations 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 provides 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 in Africa. Countries like Zimbabwe have been able to tap into the youth population through Pledge 25 and they are now able to collect more blood. More African countries have an opportunity to emulate these examples. Innovative ways to recruit and retain these young donors also 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 achievable when the youth are involved. This World Blood Donor Day young people are called to register and be regular blood donors and be ambassadors of blood wherever they are. You can save a mother, a child or just a relative or friend by a simple act of blood donation. Let us change the culture and Give Blood.
Pereruan Kenana is a Communication Expert and the Communication Lead for the Coalition of Blood for Africa Secretariat