Thousands of mothers die every year in sub-Saharan Africa because the demand for blood exceeds the supply. A Japanese medical technology company in Kenya wants to change that, the subject of this Global Japan episode.
Chronic shortage of blood supplies
In Kenya, a Japanese medical technology company is working to end the chronic shortage of blood supplies. In sub-Saharan Africa, the priority is to save the lives of expectant mothers.
The birth of her third child last year almost cost Lilian Chebet her life. She recalls: “They asked me how I was feeling and I told them that I was very tired. All my energy was gone, I couldn’t speak anymore.”
After a cesarean section in Nandi County, where she lives, she suffered postnatal hemorrhage, heavy bleeding, she needed a life-saving transfusion.
“When the doctor started treating me, I suddenly felt a chill all over my body. My whole body got cold. After about 30 minutes I started to regain my strength,” says Lilian Chebet. “If there hadn’t been donor blood in the hospital, my newborn daughter would have grown up without a mother.”
Demand for blood products exceeds supply
Lilian Chebet survived. But worldwide, more than 800 women die every day in pregnancy and childbirth. Many of the causes are preventable. Two-thirds of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. And nearly half of that is due to heavy bleeding — the demand for blood exceeds the supply.
Philana Mugyenyi works at Terumo Blood and Cell Technologies, the company belongs to the Japanese Terumo Group. The company provides technology and software for collecting blood and preparing blood cells for treatment in Africa.
Today, the manager donates platelets using automated Terumo BCT technology. The blood is withdrawn via a needle and flows back into the body.
It used to take up to six donors to collect a unit of blood for a patient. Now a single donor is enough.
“There is still no blood donation culture in Africa. There are many reasons for this. Some of them are cultural in nature, others are due to a lack of awareness,” explains Philana Mugyenyi. She works as the Government Affairs and Public Policy Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa at Terumo Blood & Cell Technologies.
According to a study by Terumo BCT, 16,000 mothers’ lives could be saved every year in Kenya, Ghana and the Ivory Coast. If only there were enough banked blood to treat postpartum bleeding like Lillian suffered at Nandi.
Philana Mugyenyi: “According to the study, in addition to the investment required and the 16,000 lives saved, annual cost savings of more than 20 million euros could be achieved if expectant mothers have access to blood supplies.”
Terumo BCT supports blood donation campaigns such as on International Women’s Day in Kenya. It also trains medical professionals in transfusions. And to improve the supply of blood products, a pan-African cooperation was founded.
“It’s possible to provide clean blood in this country,” says Dr. Nancy Okinda, Hematologist at Aga Khan University Hospital Nairobi. “The government needs to work with hospitals and all private institutions to build a solid donor registry and to acquire technology to maximize the yield of donations.”
Technologies like the ones they work with at Terumo BCT: “We have solutions to maximize the potential of each blood donation, streamline processes, avoid waste and ensure that blood can be supplied to more patients,” says Philana Mugyenyi . ‘These patient groups include mothers, but also cancer and trauma patients. In addition, we have other technologies that reduce the transmission of malaria through blood transfusions, for example.’
Back in Nandi: mother and baby are fine. The traumatic birth changed Lilian Chebet: “Joy is lively and drinks very well. She is happy every time she sees me. I am grateful for that. Thanks to my experience, as soon as I regain my strength and have a normal blood count , donating blood to help others.”