Guest post by Dr Che Kit LIN, Chief Executive & Medical Director, Hong Kong Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service
The theme for this year's World Blood Donor Day is "Safe Blood for Saving Mothers." It is a chance to highlight the need for timely access to safe blood in the prevention of maternal deaths. In fact, one person’s donation of blood can save up to three lives.
Severe bleeding during delivery or after childbirth is the most common cause of maternal mortality, contributing to an astounding 34% of maternal deaths in Africa, 21% in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 31% in Asia.
In Asia, Nepal remains one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world with 1/4 of its population of 27.5 million living below the poverty line. The country has considerably improved maternal health in the past two decades; between 1993 and 2010, the estimated maternal mortality ratio declined from 539 to 170 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. However, maternal mortality rates here are still among the highest in the world.
One way to help lower the high rate of maternal deaths is through the humanitarian act of giving blood. This act is repeated every year by millions of people through voluntary non-remunerated donation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 60 countries currently collect 100% of their blood supply from voluntary unpaid donors. The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement plays a major part in this with more than 34 million active donors around the world. In concert with our partners, we aim to grow these figures. WHO’s ambition is to have all blood donation undertaken on this basis by 2020.
Access to a safe and sufficient blood supply could help to prevent the death of a significant number of Nepalese mothers and their newborn infants each year.
In many cases, the most effective way to reach more people and strengthen blood programmes is for a Red Cross or Red Crescent National Society to join forces. For example, the Hong Kong Red Cross and Nepal Red Cross Society are working together to improve the latter’s capacity to carry out blood services, assist with risk management and provide safe equipment to reduce the risk of contamination.
In October 2013, the Hong Kong Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service and the Global Advisory Panel (GAP) on Corporate Governance and Risk Management of Blood Services began an 18 month collaborative project to provide support to the Nepal Red Cross Society National Blood Transfusion Service, lending technical expertise and financial assistance to sustain blood programmes. The programme reaches approximately 40,000 patients who receive blood transfusion per year.
Through this joint programme, we hope to provide skills and knowledge to reach those with the greatest blood needs, ultimately helping to reduce maternal mortality rates at the local level.
This project has enabled two members of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to combine and leverage their expertise, capacity and funding to facilitate improvements to a national Red Cross Blood Service. It highlights the future opportunities for such collaborations, coordinated by GAP, between high functioning blood services, partner organisations and other priority countries. This August, members of both parties will meet to discuss any areas for improvement to strengthen the overall effectiveness of this and future programmes.
National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies help where the need is greatest, whether that means providing on-the-ground assistance or supporting fellow societies.
World Blood Donor Day is a single day to remember why we work together to save lives. But we do this every day. We can only continue to work towards achieving 100 per cent voluntary blood donation to save the millions of lives at risk daily. By working together to advocate for effective blood programmes and recruitment of donors, we can give hope - and blood - for those who give life.
Dr Che Kit LIN is the Chief Executive and Medical Director of theHong Kong Red CrossBlood Transfusion Service. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world’s largest volunteer-based humanitarian network, reaching 150 million people each year through our 189 member National Societies. For more information, please visitwww.ifrc.org.