Every year on 14 June, the African Region joins the global community to commemorate World Blood Donor Day. This year’s theme entitled, “Safe blood for saving mothers”, focuses on raising people’s awareness about the critical need for safe blood and blood products to be available for everyone, especially for women suffering from severe bleeding during delivery or after childbirth. It is also an opportunity to thank voluntary unpaid blood donors for their life-saving gifts.
The choice of this theme is particularly important in Africa where 1 out of 38 women die from pregnancy-related complications compared to 1 out of 3700 in other parts of the world. Many patients, especially women and children, die because of lack of blood or are infected when transfused with unsafe blood. Blood transfusion has therefore an important role in the provision of health services.
Significant progress has been made during the past decade in improving the availability and safety of blood in the African Region. Collecting blood by voluntary unpaid donations through well-organized donor recruitment systems has been shown to be safer, more effective and more efficient than hospital-based family or replacement donations. In 2012, the number of blood donations in the Region increased to over 3.7 million units which is about 45% of the annual blood and blood products required by countries.
Despite the increase of blood donations, the number of units of blood collected remains inadequate compared to the needs of patients, especially in the rural areas where maternal deaths are usually high. This situation is often due to the lack of adequate infrastructure and insufficient qualified health workers and communication difficulties, all of which hamper the organization of blood collection in some localities.
As we commemorate World Blood Donor Day, we urge countries which have made progress in voluntary non-paying blood donations to maintain or strengthen this activity. Other countries not faring so well should redouble their efforts to meet also the target indicated above, in order to improve safe blood supply.
I thank all voluntary blood donors and encourage them to continue this noble gesture of giving blood – the gift of life. I congratulate and express my support to blood donor associations and to all those who are working to make safe blood available in healthcare settings.
The WHO Regional Office for Africa will continue to support all appropriate initiatives aimed at ensuring that safe blood and blood products are available to save African women who risk death to give life!