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Uganda grapples with critical blood shortage

Kenyans donate blood at the Nairobi bomb blast memorial area, Kenya. February 2008. The blood drive was organized by the Kenya Red Cross Society.
(Julius Mwelu/IRIN)

Uganda is struggling to resolve a countrywide shortage of blood caused by interruptions in the supply of blood donor kits and testing reagents.

The shortage has lasted one month, and at least 15 people are reported to have died in the eastern Ugandan districts of Jinja, Kumi and Soroti, which have been especially hard hit.

"The situation is bad. It has been unbearable for the last two weeks. We have lost a number of patients, especially children, due to the blood scarcity," Ruth Obaikol, the medical superintendent at Kumi Hospital, told IRIN. "There is no single unit of blood for any operation in the hospital. We have been forced to postpone the operations. The Ministry of Health needs to address the situation immediately."

The Heart Institute at Uganda's largest referral facility, Mulago Hospital, has been forced to suspend heart surgery due to scarcity of blood, according to local media.

Uganda needs 300,000 units of safe blood annually, but Uganda Blood Transfusion Services typically collects only 250,000 units. The Ministry of Health's National Blood Transfusion Service requires some US$ 7.2million annually, but it was allocated only one-third of this in the 2012/2013 budget.

The Ministry of Health and a number of NGOs are holding blood donation drives across the country to normalize the situation. "The Ministry of Health, through the National Blood Transfusion Service, has... intensified the blood collection and testing services to increase on the current low stock of blood throughout the country," Sarah Opendi, state minister for primary healthcare, said in a recent statement.

A consignment of test reagents arrived on 24 May, and more were expected in the country within days, Opendi said.

Obaikol stressed the need for the ministry to come up with a more sustainable way to maintain a steady supply of blood. "The tradition of focusing blood donation drives mainly on students must change," she added.

The UN World Health Organization recommends, among other things, conducting public awareness campaigns to ensure a steady supply of blood and strengthening monitoring of blood transfusions to ensure universal access to safe blood transfusion.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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