CONGO – Blood donation has fallen by 17% in the African region in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused widespread disruptions to key health services, lives and livelihoods.

An analysis by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that the frequency of blood drives in the African region has dropped by 25% and demand for blood declined by 13%, with the suspension of routine surgeries in some countries and fewer people seeking care in health facilities.

Around 7 million people need blood transfusion every year in the region.

One of the critical requirements for blood transfusion is in saving the lives of women who suffer severe bleeding during pregnancy, delivery or after childbirth. Such hemorrhage can be fatal within two hours if untreated.

Of the 196,000 women who die each year in sub-Saharan Africa from pregnancy-related complications, a third die from bleeding.

Half of the maternal deaths from severe bleeding in the world occur in sub-Saharan Africa and about 65% of these deaths occur after birth.

Mortality ratio per 100 000 live births in the region stands at 542 compared with 10 per 100 000 live births in Europe. Up to 75% of these maternal deaths are directly due to five complications: hemorrhage, sepsis, eclampsia, obstructed labor and abortion complications.

Most of these complications require timely availability of blood to save the life of the mother and the child.

Pregnant women need blood transfusion to treat anemia or bleeding due to pathologies in some pregnancies,” says Dr Guy Armand Yoka, gynecologist and head of the obstetrics department at Blanche Gomez Mother and Child Hospital.

This year’s World Blood Donor Day has been marked under the theme “Give blood and keep the world beating” to highlight the essential contribution blood donors make to save lives and improve the health of others.

Disruptions to the steady supply of safe blood can be life threatening. We deeply appreciate the selfless, lifesaving gesture of blood donors and urge countries to set up and reinforce systems to increase voluntary blood donations,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

Nations whose blood banks are running empty have pled with healthy individuals to come forward and make donations. Cameroon marked World Blood Donor day with continued pleas for blood donors, after a dramatic drop in donations over the past year.

Cameroon says it needs 400,000 pints of blood each year to meet the medical needs of its 25 million people. But in 2020, people donated just 48,000 units of blood, down from 103,000 units in 2019.

WHO is collaborating with organizations such as the Coalition of Blood for Africa, the Organization of African First Ladies for Development and the private sector to improve access to quality blood supply.

In partnership with Facebook, WHO has set up a Regional Blood Donations feature, which connects people with nearby blood banks. The tool is now live in 12 countries and over 3.8 million Facebook users have signed up to be notified of blood donation opportunities.

Inadequate financing and lack of effective systems to collect, analyze and ensure safe and steady supply of blood undermine the availability and provision of this critical life-saving product in many countries in Africa, where around 5 million pouches of blood which is half of the required quantity, are collected every year.

WHO is also supporting countries through guidelines and policy development, notably national blood transfusion policies, screening and analysis strategies as well as preparation and quality control of blood products.