Maternal health is a pressing global concern, and within the context of Africa, the lack of adequate blood supply exacerbates the challenges faced by pregnant women. Maternal mortality rates in Africa are significantly higher compared to other regions, with many deaths occurring due to complications related to childbirth.
According to the latest available data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank, as of 2020, the global maternal mortality ratio (MMR) was estimated to be 211 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. In contrast, Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest MMR, with an estimated average of 533 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births , more than double of the global number of 233 per 100,000. Insufficient access to safe blood and blood products during pregnancy and childbirth poses a significant obstacle to improving maternal health outcomes.
In this article, we will explore the problem of maternal health in Africa and the crucial role that blood shortages play in reducing maternal mortality rates. Views are obtained from the recently concluded IMNHC 2023 which concluded that safe blood availability is crucial to reduce maternal deaths.
Even though 25% of births in the world happen in Sub-Saharan Africa, the region is responsible for 66% of all global maternal deaths. The African continent has long struggled with high maternal mortality rates, which are influenced by inadequate healthcare infrastructure, poverty, limited access to skilled birth attendants, and cultural barriers like early marriages. Out of these maternal deaths, 27% occur due to post-partum haemorrhage and lack of safe blood.
Safe and sufficient blood is key to reducing maternal mortality on the continent.
Safe blood and blood products are essential for managing complications during pregnancy and childbirth, including severe bleeding (postpartum haemorrhage/PPH), anaemia, and conditions requiring blood transfusions. Unfortunately, blood shortages are a significant obstacle to providing the necessary care for pregnant women in Africa. Up to 75% of these maternal deaths occur after birth. Most of these complications require timely availability of blood to save the life of the mother and the child.
Access to safe blood transfusions can significantly reduce these fatalities.
However, the availability of blood remains a challenge: Only 47% of the blood supply is available, meaning that there is a gap of 53%. The major portion of blood in Sub-Saharan Africa comes from voluntary, unpaid donors, which results that the continent does not have access to adequate blood levels to sustain the general population. Sustained efforts are needed across the continent to ensure safe and adequate blood supplies, thereby saving the lives of mothers and patients in need.
Access barriers to safe blood in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Several factors contribute to blood shortages in Africa. Insufficient blood donation rates, lack of well-equipped blood banks, limited infrastructure for blood storage and transportation, and inadequate screening processes for blood safety, ineffective policies, lack of government stewardship to matters of blood are some of the primary causes. Additionally, societal factors such as fear, misconceptions, and cultural beliefs surrounding blood donation also impact blood supply.
Saving mothers from PPH: The need for an enabling environment for safe blood in Sub-Saharan Africa.
To significantly improve the access to safe blood that will save the lives of thousands of young mothers in Africa, the health ecosystem should be enabling the process of the collection, storage, and provision of safe blood for those in need. This is including, but is not limited to the below activities:
Addressing the shortage of safe blood in Africa is a non-negotiable when reducing maternal mortality rates.
The issue of maternal health in Africa is complex, with numerous contributing factors. However, addressing blood shortages is a critical component towards reducing maternal mortality rates on the African continent. By prioritizing blood donation, strengthening blood transfusion services, investing in healthcare infrastructure, and fostering partnerships, Africa can make significant strides towards ensuring safe and successful pregnancies for its women. It is only through concerted efforts and sustained commitment that we can achieve the goal of improving maternal health.
Coalition of Blood for Africa (CoBA) is a collaboration of stakeholders from diverse backgrounds who have come together to discuss issues, influence decisions and act towards adequate, safe, and sustainable blood in Sub-Saharan Africa.