Uganda reports blood shortages amid coronavirus pandemic

KAMPALA, UGANDA (AP) — Health authorities in Uganda said the supply of blood has sharply declined since the start of the coronavirus pandemic as fewer people donate and schools remain closed. The consequences are sometimes deadly.

Students, especially those in secondary school, are the largest group of blood donors in the East African country but schools have been closed since March amid efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

This means the government agency charged with collecting blood is failing to meet its targets.

Director of a hospital in Kampala Dr Emmanuel Batiibwe cited multiple deaths there in recent months related to blood shortages.

One victim was a woman with pregnancy complications. Children under five and patients going into surgery are also among those frequently in need of a blood transfusion, he said.

In July, Batiibwe’s China-Uganda Friendship Hospital received only 18 of a requisitioned 218 units of blood. The next month 68 of 217 units came in, he said.

A man prepares to give blood at a blood donation drive organised by the Rotary club and Uganda Blood Transfusion Services in City Square, Kampala, Uganda. PHOTO: AP

“There’s a problem somewhere,” he said, calling the shortage a “disaster”.

The Head of Uganda Blood Transfusion Services Dr Dorothy Byabazaire told lawmakers earlier this year that her agency collected 56,850 units of a targetted 75,000 between April and July.

Facilities across the country submit blood orders to the agency, and there is a sharing mechanism among facilities in the event of emergencies. But “borrowing” blood can be time-consuming, Batiibwe said.

The Uganda Red Cross, which helps authorities to mobilise blood donors, said it hasn’t been easy to recruit donors during the pandemic. The country has confirmed more than 8,600 coronavirus cases, including 79 deaths.

“People don’t feed well anymore. People are stressed,” said spokeswoman Irene Nakasiita, adding that some willing, potential donors are turned away because their blood levels are too low.