From January 13 to 17, 2020, National Social Security Fund (NSSF), working with the ministry of Health and the Uganda Blood Transfusion Services (UBTS), will yet again run the NSSF blood donation drive campaign.
This will be the ninth NSSF Blood Donation Drive for nine years in a row since we launched the campaign in 2012. During this time, we have mobilised blood donors all over Uganda to donate 21,425 blood units.
But even with this, and a compounded annual growth rate of 34 per cent in units collected, this is not enough blood. According to the Uganda Blood Transfusion Services, Uganda’s healthcare system uses about 1,500 units of bloods daily, but UBTS is able to collect on average 1,250 units daily (83 per cent of the required blood), meaning that there is a 17 per cent deficit every day.
But presenting this problem in percentages obscures the actual gravity of the crisis. Let us look at it this way. Blood is critical in the care and treatment of coronary heart diseases, HIV/Aids, perinatal conditions (complications before, during and after childbirth), malaria, road traffic accidents, cancer and sickle cells, etc., which are some of the leading causes of deaths in sub-Saharan Africa - including Uganda.
Blood can be used whole, or separated into its component parts, such as red blood cells, platelets, plasma, and other “substances” that can be used to treat a wide range of diseases. A single unit of blood can be used to benefit several patients.
A 17 per cent deficit, therefore, means that for every 100 people above, who need blood, 17 people never get it. These 17 people could be anyone; it could be me, you or your loved one.
This deficit, according to UBTS, varies across Uganda, although North Western Uganda has a wider deficit (30 per cent), followed by Eastern Uganda (19 per cent) and Western Uganda (15 per cent).
But across board, this period of the year, December- January, has the widest shortages. This is largely attributed to the long school holidays - yet students are the largest single group of blood donors. This is exacerbated by the prolonged rainy season, which intensifies disease occurrence and prevalence.
Given that blood is unique and cannot be manufactured anywhere, and that it is also extremely perishable - lasting for a maximum of 35 days – it, therefore, means that regular donations by unpaid blood donors remains the only source of sufficient, quality and safe blood. Voluntary, unpaid blood donations is, therefore, almost equivalent to an act of giving or extending life. It is the greatest gift any person can receive or give to anyone.
It is in light of this that I, on behalf of NSSF and our partners, ministry of Health and UBTS, invite all able-bodied adults to participate in this noble life-giving exercise that is taking place across our 23 locations in the country.
This time round, we aim to collect up to 15,000 units of blood in this five-day campaign to bridge the annual blood supply deficit and also plug the recurring high demand for blood during the rainy season that is associated with the high disease incidences.
For sustainability purposes, in the medium to long term, the NSSF Blood Donation Drive campaign, also seeks to inculcate a blood donation culture amongst Ugandans, thus enabling Uganda to sustainably meet the World Health Organisation recommended blood collection rates that is 10 whole blood units per 1,000 inhabitants.
We have made it so convenient. For five days and in the Kampala area alone, we have designated 10 locations i.e. Constitution Square, Clock Tower, Mukwano Arcade, Sekaziga House, Goods Shade, Bwaise Roundabout, NSSF lobby at Workers House, William Street; Opposite Standard Chartered bank, Kibuye Roundabout and Nateete at Samona Building.
In Mukono, we will be at Sombe Supermarket and in Lugazi, while in Entebbe, we will be in Kitooro town. Other towns are Hoima (Katikara Market), Masaka (Kirumba TC and Katwe TC), Jinja (Central Market), Mbarara (Independence park grounds) and Gulu (Gulu Main Market). In Lira, we will be at Alebtong Ajuri Market, while in Fort Portal town, we will be at Mpanga market, in Bududa at Bududa Corner and Buwangani and then Nebbi at Pentagon grounds.
All blood donations centres shall be open between 8am and 6pm. As we are at the tail end of the festive season, I would like to remind and urge everyone that voluntary, unpaid blood donation is a real act of giving life – the greatest gift any person can give to anyone.
Since blood can’t be manufactured, getting ourselves to develop a blood-donating culture is very vital to reducing complications and sometimes deaths related to lack of safe blood.
Let us all do everything within our means to donate, encourage our friends and families to donate and also encourage them to tell their peers to donate too.
Together, we can end blood shortage in our healthcare system.
The author is the managing director of NSSF.