Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti — Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa's (CJTF-HOA) medical logistics Soldiers processed blood for the first time with the command's brand-new, and only, blood storage and distribution center.
"For the past few years we've been receiving new equipment as a part of the frozen blood program that will allow for longer storage of red blood cells, significantly increasing the shelf life of the blood CJTF-HOA receives to support local units," said U.S. Army Maj. Jennifer Wright, Surgeon Cell medical logistics officer, CJTF-HOA.
A significant amount of specialized medical equipment and supplies are required to have the storage and distribution center running at full functionality, Wright said. One of the primary pieces of equipment used is the Automated Cell Processor (ACP) 215, which safely freezes, thaws, and washes red blood cells.
"The ACP 215 takes red blood cells through a process called deglycerolization. When blood is initially frozen, a substance called glycerol is added to keep the red blood cells alive while they're frozen," said U.S. Army Master Sgt. Malika Sharif, Surgeon Cell senior enlisted leader, CJTF-HOA. "Glycerol is a non-toxic liquid, but if it's not removed during the unfreezing process, it can cause the blood cells to rupture, rendering the supply unsuitable for transfusion. The ACP 215 takes red blood cells through the deglycerolization process to prevent that."
Frozen blood, which is kept below -65 degrees Celsius, can be stored for up to 10 years, but once it's gone through the deglycerolization process, it must be used within 14 days, Wright said.
"Prior to this equipment arriving, we were not able to repair frozen blood; fresh blood was the only option available," Wright said. "The storage and distribution center doesn't replace the need for chilled blood entirely, but it offers the ability to store hundreds of units locally."
Camp Lemonnier's Expeditionary Medical Facility (EMF) has its own deglycerolization capabilities that primarily focus on locally assigned personnel, but which also support personnel located throughout East Africa. The addition of the new distribution center allows CJTF-HOA to improve response times, not just locally, but throughout all of CJTF-HOA's AOR, Wright explained.
"Now, we are able to provide a more reliable blood source for emergencies, efficiently reducing the waste of blood products and alleviating the logistical challenges that exist in shipping liquid blood products," Wright said. "This new capability will allow us to meet unit demand and serve as a ready-to-go source for emergency situations."
She added, "Quite a few initiatives had to be accomplished, as well as several modifications to the blood storage and distribution center in order to successfully execute this capability. It's been a long, tedious process, and it took the entire team to make this happen, but together we got it up and running."