Dakar – Like many countries, Senegal has seen a spike in social media usage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eighty-two per cent of all Senegalese have a smartphone, and 58% are regular internet users.
This makes social media platforms the perfect arena for addressing another health concern: the decline in blood donations for critical life-saving interventions.
An initiative launched by the Senegalese National Blood Transfusion Centre (CNTS) and supported by World Health Organization (WHO) seeks to capitalize on the country’s skyrocketing social media usage to encourage more people to regularly donate blood.
“COVID-19 has put a strain on our health infrastructure, making it harder to maintain the blood banks on which many depend,” says CNTS director, Professor Saliou Diop. “But at the same time, the rise in social media use during the pandemic felt like an opportunity to draw people’s attention to a collateral crisis which they actually have the power to prevent.”
With WHO support, CNTS established a partnership with Facebook to help the country’s blood banks connect faster and easier with donors. Through a dedicated Facebook page, users can learn about the process of donating blood safely and identify the nearest donation site. The page currently counts over 27 000 followers.
But the campaign does not stop there.
On Twitter, CNTS regularly posts donor information and statistics, while fielding questions from the public about the donation process. That page has attracted more than 6000 followers. A further 800 follow the campaign via the CNTS Instagram page.
At the start of the pandemic, Senegal’s blood donations plummeted by 75%. The CNTS social media campaign has helped those figures to rebound at a rate of 10% year on year. Between 2020 and 2021, donations increased by 11%.
Additionally, CNTS has enlisted the support of several influencers to appeal to their followers to contribute to Senegal’s blood banks. The results have been impressive: a three-day blood drive in March 2021 yielded 1500 donations – a fivefold increase on the usual rate.
A particular focus of the campaign has been women and youth.
“We hope to encourage more repeat donors among these groups,” says Professor Diop. “Developing a pipeline of regular donations will make Senegal more self-sufficient and ensure that we maintain an ample supply of blood for when it’s needed most.”
Blood donation rates vary significantly among countries. According to WHO figures for 2020, 31.5 of every 1000 people in high-income countries donate blood. In contrast, only five in every 1000 people in low-income countries are blood donors.
The consequences of blood shortages can be severe. An adequate and reliable blood supply is indispensable to critical care interventions, such as reducing maternal mortality due to postpartum haemorrhage, treating anaemia in children, and fighting non-communicable diseases like cancer and renal insufficiency.
In addition to facilitating the partnership with Facebook, WHO has organized informational seminars, offered guidance for maintaining blood supplies during public health events such as pandemics, and signal-boosted public awareness campaigns around World Blood Donor Day.
For Professor Diop, this uptick in blood donors and donations epitomizes the Senegalese spirit of civic responsibility.
“Thanks to the generosity and concern of our fellow citizens, we can help make a significant contribution to universal health coverage and to a more efficient and resilient health system for our country,” he says.