Rwanda: How Can Rwanda Tackle Its Blood Donation Shortfall?

Aime Gaspard Taramirwa, 26, has been donating blood at least thrice a year since 2016 when he was still a university student.

He does it voluntarily. Although Covid-19 and its induced lockdown has affected his donation schedule, he has no plans to stop as long as he has all the requirements.

For him, donating blood offers shared benefits to society given that it saves lives.

Taramirwa is also well aware that one day he might be on the receiving end.

"I might not be in need of blood transfusion right now, but I know someone somewhere is and I am saving them just like anyone may save me when I need it," he told The New Times.

Taramirwa is one of the many Rwandans who voluntarily donate over 90,000 blood units every year.

On June 14 every year, the world celebrates such people through what is now known as World Blood Donor Day.

This year's Blood Donor Day comes in the midst of the Covid-19 challenges, meaning national celebrations cannot be carried out while blood donation activities are also affected.

It also comes at the time the National Centre of Blood Transfusion (NCBT) says that only 0.6 per cent of Rwandans donate blood every year.

This is well below the recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) that in order to bridge the deficit in blood transfusion at least one percent of the population should donate blood.

Therefore, given that Rwanda is 0.4 percentage point short of the WHO standard, is the country experiencing a deficit in blood products?

"No, we do not have a deficit of blood products," says Dr. Swaibu Gatare, the Division Manager of the NCBT at the Rwanda Biomedical Centre.

Dr. Gatare disclosed that the blood that donated caters for an average of 97 per cent of the country's clinical blood demand.

In 2019, he said, blood demand in hospitals was 102,145 units. Only 91,960 units or 93 per cent of the demand was supplied.

Dr. Gatare insists that the deficit is not significant, especially given that blood demand in Rwanda has been falling over the last few years.

The trend, he said, is occasioned by the fact that traffic accidents and maternity deaths, which used to be the leading drivers of demand for blood transfusion, have fallen sharply.

For instance, maternal mortality ratio fell gradually from 1,130 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1998 to 210 deaths per 100,000 births today, according to UNICEF.

Road accidents also decreased to 4,661 cases in 2019, from 5,661 that were recorded in 2018, an equivalent of 17 per cent reduction.

"Developing health sector, on-time and advanced blood products delivery which uses drones, has made it easier to satisfy hospitals," Dr. Gatare explains.

Hospital satisfaction was also confirmed by Murangwa Anthere, a Laboratory Manager at Rwanda Military Hospital.

"We have not gone short on blood products for a long time. All patients in need of blood products are catered for," Murangwa said.

How can the deficit be bridged?

Rwanda National Police and Rwanda Defense Force lead in voluntary blood donation, according to Dr. Gatare.

However, he said that for Rwanda to reach the recommended 1 per cent of the population donating blood, Rwandans especially Kigali city residents should donate blood more.

"Kigali city has a relatively lower number of blood donors and we call upon city dwellers to understand that this concerns them too," he said.

He also called upon people who have RH- blood types to or O-, A-, B-, AB- to donate blood more to provide for RH- high demand that often goes uncovered.

The issue of shortage of some blood products has become problematic at the University Teaching Hospital of Butare (CHUB) located in Huye, there is a shortage of some blood products including platelets and RH- blood type

Steven Ndayisaba, a Registrar Nurse who has been working at the hospital for 20 years says that majority of blood donors have RH+ blood type which becomes a problem when patients in need of RH- blood groups show up.

Ndayisaba suggests that sensitizing the public and debunking myths and rumors around blood transfusion be done to get more people donate blood.

According to WHO, 118.5 million blood donations are collected globally every year and 54 percent of them are given to children under 5.

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