Technology is a saviour of some sort. It provides solutions and saves lives in unimaginable ways.
It was just about 4 am when the doctor told Jumoke Oladehinde’s family (name changed) that she needed four bags of blood otherwise she is going to die.
He also told them they needed to have the blood available in about one hour and the blood had to be in the best condition.
A few hours before, Jumoke had given birth to a baby girl, her second. Her husband had been called from his Okada work, and he had come to the hospital for a visit and then left to drink with his friends, to celebrate the new baby, thinking all was well.
The plan was to return the next day, pick up his wife and head home to start their lives as a family of four.
A few hours later, he was called and told that his wife had only one hour to live.
In Nigeria, limited access to blood is responsible for the annual deaths of 26,000 pregnant women, 35,000 children with malaria and many more of the most vulnerable citizens in our community.
Similarly, limited access to oxygen is responsible for the annual deaths of 177,000 children with pneumonia and critical access to oxygen can help save the majority of them. Jumoke did not survive the birth of her second child, and stories like hers are too common in Nigeria and all over Africa.
Nigeria’s annual blood need is estimated at about 1.9 million pints. The World Health Organisation recommends that 100% of the country’s blood supply should come from voluntary, non-remunerated blood donors.
Unfortunately, Nigeria only collects about 500,000 pints each year and our blood supply is dominated by commercial (paid) blood donors.
Voluntary non-remunerated blood donors account for only 10% of Nigeria’s total blood collection while family/friend replacement and commercial (paid) donors account for 30% and 60% respectively. These figures are worrisome.
Family Replacement, a process where family members or friends are mandated to donate blood on behalf of a loved one, is a poor substitute for voluntary donation due to the fact that it causes undue stress and trauma for people already in distress and reduces the likelihood of such family members committing to become lifelong voluntary blood donors.
Unfortunately, hospitals resort to this tactic due to the dearth of voluntary blood donors.
LifeBank is a medical distribution company committed to saving millions of Nigerian lives through ensuring access to essential medical products like blood and oxygen.
In over 3 years of operations, we have worked with over 300 hospitals to distribute over 15,200 units of blood and oxygen and saved over 4,400 patients from death.
We use a combination of high and low technology such as blockchain, mobile phones and USSD platforms to ensure 24/7 access and connection for hospital teams to discover the products they need to save lives.
We use a wide variety of mobility tools to reach our customers; including but not limited to motorcycles, boats, and light trucks.
We are also committed to our work to improve blood supplies by building a movement of blood donors.
At LifeBank, a company I founded four years ago, we are deeply committed to boosting the availability and safety of blood supply in Nigeria.
Our blood donor app is a web application that connects people to blood banks. Registered users can book appointments on the app to donate blood at a blood bank closest to them, and earn rewards for completing donations.
Our Pop-Up Blood Drive service is a fun and memorable blood donor clinic experience that enables busy Nigerians working in corporate organisations donate blood right in the comfort of their offices. In addition to being a wonderful CSR initiative, it is also a great bonding activity that improves organisational morale by helping people do good.
Raising awareness about the importance of voluntary blood donation is also critical to improving the quality of blood supply in African countries.
Due to the overreliance on paid blood donors who are at a higher risk of transfusion-transmissible infections like HIV, Hepatitis and e.t.c, blood transfusions account for 5% – 10% of new HIV infections in the region.
It is no surprise that sub-Saharan African countries have a disproportionate percentage of the world’s HIV burden.
However, it isn’t all bad news. Some cities across Africa have been successful in the pursuit of safe blood for all. Lagos State is one of them.
In 2014, the state government created the Lagos State Blood Transfusion Committee (LSBTC) to regulate blood supply and improve the rate of voluntary blood donation.
Under the leadership of Dr Modupe Olaiya, the First Executive Secretary of LSBTC, Lagos state implemented a policy requiring all blood collected for transfusion within the state be tested by government-regulated screening centers, and carry a removable seal showing proof of this additional layer of safety.
The decline in the prevalence of HIV in Lagos state from 5.1% in 2013 to 4.1% in 2016 indicates that this measure of ensuring blood safety combined with other HIV prevention and treatment initiatives by the Lagos State Health Service Commission, are working to reduce the state’s HIV burden.
The recent appointment of the acting Executive Secretary, Dr. Bodunrin Osikomaiya, a renowned hematology consultant, shows that the state is serious in continuing these reforms and extending innovation in the blood chain. Our goal is to see similar innovation occur in all states in Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory.
While there was a modest reduction in HIV prevalence in blood, the rate of TTIs in our blood system still remains uncomfortably high. It is clear that the blood donation system requires more transparency, accountability, and a process that is completely immutable and that is tamperproof.
Recently, we launched SmartBag, a blockchain-powered blood integrity solution that can help Nigeria achieve universal safe blood.
Smartbag helps patients and health providers discover the safety records of blood and blood products with information about all the process involved in blood supply recorded on a blockchain, preserving its integrity, and making it immutable.
When scanned, the SmartBag gives hospitals access to all the details about the donation, collection, screening, storage, and delivery procedures involved in the blood and blood components transfused into their patients.
This system will increase provider confidence in the quality of the blood products and help to reduce the clinical risk linked to blood transfusions.
SmartBag adapts blockchain, a high tech solution, to fit the Nigerian landscape. For hospitals and healthcare providers without access to smartphones, computers or the internet, this information will be made available on simple feature phones through USSD shortcodes.
This technology can also be used to monitor the distribution chain of controlled drugs such as codeine and tramadol, as well as fight back against drug counterfeiting in developing countries.
The goal is to build a safe and secure system that is universally available to every Nigerian, regardless of their economic status, especially as Nigeria has a large population of people living in extreme poverty, and Jumoke’s family was one of them. To add that lack of immediate access to funds leads to deaths of over 121,500 people in Nigeria alone.
To reduce this, we launched Blood and Oxygen Access Trust (BOAT), a fund set up by LifeBank to pay for emergency blood and oxygen needs of low-income Nigerians using private and government capital donations and allocations.
This project has helped improve access to these critical supplies in poor communities around Lagos and Abuja. In the coming months, we will expand this service to every state in Nigeria.
At LifeBank, we believe that no Nigerian should die from a shortage of essential medical products, and we are on a mission to solve this using technology.
To learn more about our work, visit lifebank.ng and lifeabankapp.ng to find out how you too can join our movement of blood donors!
Temie Giwa-Tubosun studied International Public Management from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. She has over 10 years of health management experience with the Department For International Development (DFID), World Health Organization, UNDP, and the Lagos State Government. In 2014, the BBC listed her as one of the 100 Women changing the world. She was also recognized as an African Innovator by Quartz and the World Economic Forum. She is the Founder and CEO of LifeBank; Africa's healthcare supply chain engine. The company helps hospitals discover essential medical suppliers and delivers them in the right condition and on time.