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Health

Somalia Launches First National Blood Bank in Decades


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Maintaining a sufficient supply of blood is an essential component of a functional health system. Blood transfusions are particularly needed by survivors of accidents and pregnant women who are bleeding excessively. Safe access to blood will help reduce preventable deaths. You can join us in taking action on this issue here.

The Somali government will set up a national blood bank for the first time in decades, according to an announcement from the prime minister's office on Monday.

The announcement fell on the two-year anniversary of the county’s deadliest terrorist attack, which killed 587 people on Oct. 14, 2017. The attack shook the country, leaving behind 1,500 orphans. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack to date.

Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire said the importance of a blood bank was a lesson resulting from the deadly blast, adding that many Somalis “die of bleeding, with a majority of the victims being pregnant mothers and victims of terrorist attacks.”

It is reported the facility will have a storage capacity of 10,000 units of blood. One unit of blood can save up to three lives, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The establishment of the facility is “urgent given our context,” Ali Khaire said. “The establishment of a national blood bank today [is a] major step in founding and maintaining a safe and adequate supply of blood for national use.”

The prime minister said providing reliable blood transfusion services is fundamental to the country’s health sector reform.

According to VOA News, after the deadly terrorist attack, hundreds of Somalis rushed to hospitals to donate blood — and many people were turned away as hospitals were unable to store blood.

The widespread willingness to donate blood is atypical in the country. “In Somalia, a country ravaged by almost constant violence, social stigma and unfounded fears of needles or anemia have long prevented most people from donating blood,” VOA reports.

For the last two decades, blood shortages have plagued hospitals, and doctors have taken it upon themselves to lead blood donor campaigns.

“The country has no blood bank, and … we have seen patients dying because of loss of blood, including children, pregnant women, and gunshot patients,” Najma Ali Moalim, a doctor, told VOA.

According to the World Health Organization, almost 4,000 women in Somalia die every year from pregnancy or childbirth complications. The WHO said that in one hospital alone, nearly 70% of donated blood was transfused to mothers.

“Severe bleeding during delivery and after childbirth is one of the most common causes of maternal death and long-term disability. Timely access to safe blood transfusion is one of the key interventions in cases of complications during pregnancy or delivery,” the organization states.

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Although there are some functional blood transfusion units and blood banks in Somalia, the WHO has said that access to safe and sufficient blood is difficult and limited, and that even when transfusion units exist, “they lack trained staff, proper equipment, routine supplies and basic amenities such as water.”

Health advocates in Somalia have been campaigning to increase blood donations and calling for a national blood bank for years. 

In a 2016 interview with CCTV News, Duniyo Ali Mohamed from Madina Hospital in Mogadishu said patients are impacted by blood shortages: “In case of emergency what our patients need is blood — not food, not water. It’s very important to have a blood bank, one that will help us especially when explosions take place in the city.”