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Every day when a Nigerian goes into medical emergency that requires blood donation, it is often considered a death sentence; albeit misconstrued. The reason is not farfetched when the shortage of (donated) blood in the country is considered, which accounts for the high incident of deaths that would have otherwise been prevented.
At other times, blood may be unavailable where it is direly needed, but available elsewhere even though not in excess, and for logistic reasons, the person whose life depends on it may not get it. The dearth of this essential requirement for mostly accident victims and insurgencies has also contributed to avoidable morbidity especially among women and children.
Availability of blood is again resonating today as the World Blood Donor day is observed, emphasizing blood donation and universal access to safe blood transfusion, as a component of achieving universal health coverage. With an estimated 1.8 million units of blood required in Nigeria, available data suggests only about a quarter of this demand is met annually through donation. Even at that paid donation accounts for 60 per cent of blood donated in Nigeria, family replacements, 30 per cent, while voluntary donation is only 10 per cent.
However, if blood becomes too expensive, the poor will feel the pinch more. It could precipitate a situation where the rich can literally buy life. After all, it is said that life is in the blood.
In Lagos, one start-up is working to change the narrative in timely access to safe blood for those in need of it. Lifebank, which started operating in 2016, acts as a bridge between blood banks and hospitals (for now in Lagos and Abuja). Delivery is done in an unusual way; through motorbikes, the types most people associate with couriers and delivery agents.
Working with a network of 50 blood banks, Lifebank says since inception three years ago, it has supplied 14,000 units of blood to hospitals, helping to save an estimated 4,000 lives. Even more impressive is the company’s claim that it has been able to cut down the delivery time from (the usual) 24 hours to 45 minutes.
“In the race to get blood to patients, every second counts,” said Temie Giwa-Tubosun, founder/CEO, Lifebank. According to her, blood is something that does not affect people based on whether they are rich or poor. “If people don’t get it when it is needed, they will die,” she said.
Navigating the traffic-choked Lagos terrain according to Giwa-Tubosun, is made possible with the use of Google maps, which helps the delivery guys on motorbikes to know routes, find out if there is traffic, and know where to avoid.
“In as much as we need to go fast, the first thing is you need to know where you are going,” said Giwa-Tubosun. With the Google map, the can also know exactly where riders are, and if a hospital calls to know where the rider is, the estimated time of arrival can be given with precision, with information on where they are at that point. In the end, lives depend on how fast blood is delivered when required during an emergency.
Giwa-Tuboson was about 26 years old when she first developed interest in supplying blood, and now oxygen and other critical hospital (emergency) supplies. She had just given birth following a challenging pregnancy and in the middle of all that decided to research, entering in Google search “why are women still dying through child birth”. The findings she got at the time, indicated it was mostly through postpartum haemorrhage and with that, the decision to start Lifebank was ignited.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), data indicates about 165 women die per day from pregnancy and pregnancy related complications in Nigeria. Additionally, postpartum haemorrhage is a leading cause of maternal mortality, accounting for about 27 per cent of all maternal deaths in Nigeria while bleeding from Road traffic accidents is a leading cause of death amongst the young and middle aged. It is estimated that about 20,000 children die daily in Nigeria with 30 per cent due to causes related to anaemia.
However, with one unit of blood costing about N14, 000, and an estimated 80 per cent of the population living on less than N800 ($2) a day, paying for blood becomes quite a challenge, particularly when scarcity is driving the price up.