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    Donate Blood to Save Lives

    Banjul 15 June 2022: June 14 marks the World Blood Donor Day, an occasion to celebrate the gift of life from voluntary, unpaid blood donors around the world, and to raise global awareness on the need for safe blood and blood products for transfusion. The theme for 2022 “Donating blood is an act of solidarity. Join the effort and save lives.” was selected to highlight the critical contribution voluntary, unpaid blood donors make to national health systems, and to promote solidarity in voluntary blood donations. 

    In a statement to mark the day, Dr. Desta Tiruneh, WHO Country Representative for The Gambia, emphasized the importance of voluntary blood donations and its role in improving access to safe blood and blood products. However, not everyone who needs blood can access it, he remarked. Blood shortages are particularly acute in developing countries across much of Africa, and The Gambia is no exception. Here, alike the rest of Africa, up to 54 % of blood transfusions are given to women and children (who are among the most vulnerable populations in the world) and is used more often for management of pregnancy-related complications, childhood severe anemia due to malaria, and trauma, he noted.

    Highlighting the need for adequate and reliable supply of safe blood, Dr. Tiruneh stressed the importance of unpaid, voluntary blood donors, who are the safest group of donors given the low prevalence of bloodborne infections among them. He reminded and requested the public to “voluntarily donate more blood as every year in The Gambia, 15 to 20 thousand units of blood are collected for blood transfusion purposes. Of this figure, only 24.1% accounts for voluntary, unpaid donations“. This low rate of voluntary donations has created a gap between the need and available safe blood across the country.

    In comparison to other West African nations, has one of the highest rates of donations in the region with 7.2 donations per 1000 inhabitants. However, none of the 16 West African countries have reached the WHO benchmark of 10 whole blood collections per 1000 inhabitants needed to maintain a stable flow of blood supply. Dr. Tiruneh encouraged everybody and said, “We as individuals, have the power to change this situation if we join the effort by donating blood and saving lives.” Donating just one unit of blood can save the lives of up to three patients, he added.

    Dr. Tiruneh also took the opportunity to highlight the work WHO has done in The Gambia thus far to ensure the stability of the blood supply chain in the country. “Over the years, blood transfusion services have been expanded to 11 major health centers and tertiary hospitals across the country,” he continued, “This is far more than just the 2 facilities that provided these services in the years prior – those being the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital and the Bansang hospital.”

    Similarly, Dr. Tiruneh also highlighted the WHO’s role in the establishment of a central blood bank at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital, which stores the blood supply and facilitates its delivery to the other hospitals as needed.

    In addition to expanding access to blood supply and blood transfusions, WHO is also ensuring the quality and safety of blood and blood products for transfusions. “To this end,” Dr. Tiruneh says, “we are supporting the Ministry of Health in the establishment of a standardized central quality assurance center to periodically assess the quality of systems for blood transfusion services in the country. Working with our partners in South Africa, the WHO has enrolled The Gambia in an External Quality Assurance Program, the primary intention of which is to support quality improvement of the blood transfusion services provided by the participating Gambian facilities.”

    WHO is also collaborating with the Ministry of Health to update the clinical guidelines on the use of blood and blood products, to ensure the policies and guidelines are being effectively implemented at all levels of the health system and are compliant with international standards of best practices. In the months to come, the WHO Gambia office anticipates training over 100 health workers throughout the country in the use of these updated guidelines.

    Finally, Dr. Tiruneh concluded his remarks with deep gratitude and sincere thanks to those selfless Gambians who have chosen to donate the precious, life-saving gift of blood to patients in need of transfusion. He also extended appreciation to the government of the Gambia and partners for their commitment to expand blood services in the country. He acknowledged the tireless efforts of blood services staff who are deeply committed to maintaining critical blood supplies, of the research and development professionals pursuing new technologies and uses for donated blood, as well as the medical teams who use blood rationally to save lives.

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