It is June 14, 2021. Yet, many Cameroonians still lack access to blood and blood products.
Today on World Blood Donor Day, I reflect on the great need Cameroon has for voluntary , non remunerated blood donors and why many Cameroonians are still unable to get access to blood when they need it.
The need for blood is universal, but access to blood for all those who need it is not. Blood shortages are particularly acute in developing countries like Cameroon.
Cameroon has peculiar access challenges stemming from a lot of factors which include:
1. Infrastructure: power and blood banking equipment/ systems that run at the required temperature are not readily available.
2. Funding/ Cost : the cost of storage equipment and even basic cost of blood bags and other reagents are not readily affordable for most primary health care centers. This drives up the cost of the blood units and further reduces access to blood products. For community driven organisations like the VMLS ( Volunteer Medical Laboratory Scientists Corps ) funding is needed to actualize low cost interventions that would increase access to blood.
In Cameroon at the moment , average cost of a blood unit is about $35 per unit or about 17,000frs … For a country with a monthly minimum wage of 36,270frs or $70 and less than 10% health insurance coverage in the population, it means majority of people who need blood have to pay out of pocket and so this delays access or even prevents access.
3. Waste: A unit of blood can cater for 3 patients , if appropriately separated and needed fractions used. However ,due to a paucity of separation facilities, there is an indiscriminate use of whole blood for each patient where only red blood cell concentrates or even platelet fractions would have sufficed.
4. Selfishness : perhaps it is not really selfishness, as much as a lack of understanding about the benefits of blood donation. Throughout the year (2020) we have spoken to many relative donors who in the past year donated blood for their family members hoping to convince them to become voluntary blood donors. Less than 2% willingly agreed to become voluntary donors.
It is an opportunity for more advocacy and community education. When a loved one needs blood , a much larger percentage will be willing to donate blood. However, when the blood donation is likely to be for a nameless person, many people balk at the idea.
5. The “business” factor : There are many who profit from the sale of blood and who readily make use of commercial paid donors to stock blood banks. Without firm legislation that criminalizes such transactions , it will be a challenge to reduce their activities.
These ones see the blood bank purely as a profit making business venture and not as a life saving facility.
There are other factors that affect the access of blood and blood products in the developing world. However, if the above are effectively tackled, there will be a noticeable improvement and improved access.