The World Health Organisation says  blood stocks in the African region have declined over the last year as fewer people have been donating blood during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, said it was due to travel restrictions and worries of infection that prevented individuals from attending donation centres.

“There are still around seven million patients who require this life-saving product in African countries every year,” she said.

According to her,  World Blood Donor Day is celebrated on June 14 annually, while the theme for 2021 is: “Give blood and keep the world beating”.

She said that safe blood and its transfusion are key aspects in providing quality care to save mothers haemorrhaging during childbirth and people with serious injuries.

“Blood is needed for surgical procedures, as well as to treat severe anaemia, inherited blood disorders, and other conditions.

“Blood can only be stored for a limited time and so a steady supply of donations is important to make sure adequate blood products are always available,” she said.

She said that as part of the COVID-19 response, 10 African countries are investigating the use of COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma (CCP) therapy.

Moeti said that among them are Ethiopia, Guinea and Mauritius, who have collected CCP for compassionate use and randomised control trials are ongoing in South Africa and Uganda.

Moeti said that the day was also an opportunity to thank and appreciate voluntary, unpaid blood donors for this life-saving gift.

She said that over the past year, blood stocks decreased in the African region as movement restrictions and fears of infection hindered people from accessing donation sites.

Moeti said that the blood donation rate dropped by 17 per cent while the frequency of blood drives reduced by 25 per cent.

She said that demand for blood also decreased by 13 per cent with the suspension of routine surgeries in some countries and fewer people seeking care in health facilities.

“However, even during the pandemic, blood donors in many countries have made extraordinary efforts to continue to donate blood.

“Awareness campaigns backed by the collaboration of donor associations, civil society organisations, and armed and security forces, have led to good levels of voluntary donor recruitment in eight African countries,” she said.

According to her, WHO is working with a range of stakeholders to improve access to quality blood supplies.

She said that the organisation was partnering with the Coalition of Blood for Africa (CoBA), launched in November 2020, to drive the agenda, including engaging the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD) and the private sector.

She said the organisation partnered with the BloodSafe Programme funded by the United States of America National Institutes of Health supports research to enhance availability of safe blood in African countries.

Accordingly to her, the partnership, research projects in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi are underway in collaboration with universities in the United States.

“The partnership with Facebook, we have 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.

“We are encouraging more young people to donate blood to save lives and to inspire their peers and families to do so too,” Moeti said.

She said that in some countries, in line with national guidance, people aged 16 and 17 can donate blood with their parent’s or guardian’s consent, and in all countries anyone over 18 can save someone’s life by donating blood.

She therefore urged the governments, in collaboration with blood donor associations and NGOs, to put in place the systems and infrastructure needed to increase the collection of blood from voluntary donors.