| Innovation Fields

World Blood Donor Day: LifeBank Making a Difference

[Translate to EMD:]

On 14 June each year, countries around the world celebrate World Blood Donor Day. The purpose of the day is to thank voluntary, unpaid blood donors for their gifts of blood and to raise awareness of the need for regular blood donations.

Since its founding in 2016, the Accelerator startup LifeBank has also been promoting these aims and is working to improve access to blood transfusions. To commemorate World Blood Donor Day, LifeBank has been organizing blood drives across Nigeria and will be hosting its own blood drive on June 16. Based in Lagos, Nigeria, LifeBank collates inventory information from thousands of medical suppliers to ease the supply chain and delivery process of vital medical resources, including blood and blood products. It also runs a smart distribution platform using motorbikes in urban areas.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that many patients requiring transfusion do not have timely access to safe blood and that this affects low-income countries more than any other group. Emphasizing why the World Blood Donor Day is so important in addressing this, the founder of LifeBank, Temie Giwa-Tubosun explains: “It is important to raise awareness about the need for safe blood and blood products. Without them, millions of lives will be lost annually.” Referring to some of the implications this has, Temie adds:”Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa collect less than half of the blood needed to meet their blood transfusion needs. Unfortunately, to close this deficit, healthcare providers in these countries rely on paid donors who have a higher rate of transfusion-transmissible infections (TTIs).” This is because paid donors are more likely than unpaid donors to donate blood in the period during which infectious donations escape detection by blood-screening tests. Therefore, paid donations have a higher risk that labile blood components, such as red blood cells and platelets, are infected. Temie continues: “ That’s why raising awareness about the importance of voluntary blood donation is especially important in Sub-Saharan African countries because blood transfusions account for 8-14% of new HIV infections and these countries bear a large percentage of the world’s HIV burden. Increased voluntary periodic donations will not only result in an abundant blood supply but also a safer blood supply.”

This urgent need helps to illustrate why LifeBank started out: after personally witnessing a woman die of postpartum hemorrhage, a condition that could have been treated if blood had been readily available, LifeBank’s founder Temie was determined to improve blood accessibility. According to WHO, Nigeria has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, and one of the major causes of maternal mortality in Nigeria is postpartum hemorrhage. After this tragic experience, Temie notes: “I soon realized that the blood shortage problem was much larger than I had thought and had a significant impact on different demographics - one out of three people entering a hospital needs blood.”

Influenced by her years working in International Development, Temie resolved to tackle the blood shortage problem in Nigeria through a non-profit model that mobilizes Nigerians to give blood. However, according to Temie: “my research showed that this was a multi-pronged issue and that getting more people to donate blood would not eliminate scarcity caused by poor logistics and inventory management. My decision to address the supply and the logistical issues surrounding the discovery and delivery of blood is how LifeBank came to be.”

“LifeBank believes that noone should die from a shortage of essential medical products at the hospital level, and we are on a mission to solve this using technology. We plan to expand to the discovery and delivery of other essential medical products such as vaccines, oxygen and rare drugs and grow to be the supply engine of Africa’s healthcare system.” Yet achieving this won’t be easy - Temie explains: “Nigeria is known for its dearth of infrastructure and its underfunded health system. While we consider our work to be soft infrastructure that will fill the gap and help save lives, we are not immune to the consequences of our country’s lack of investment in infrastructure and healthcare. The absence of good roads affects the speed of essential medical product delivery, and the fact of underpaid health workers results in strikes and health worker shortages. All of this can affect the supply and quality of blood.”

Nevertheless, LifeBank is resolved to make a difference. The startup is supporting World Blood Donor Day by fostering a culture of voluntary blood donation in Nigeria. Temie is positive about the initiative: “Our donor app is on its way to becoming one of the largest voluntary blood donor databases in the country.” LifeBank’s blood donor app is a web application that connects people to blood banks. Registered users can use the app to book appointments to donate blood at the government-operated blood bank closest to them and earn points for each step along the way. Points earned during registration, booking and completing an appointment, rating the appointment experience, and referring people to join the app can be redeemed for prizes provided by LifeBank’s partners. Members of the app can also be mobilized for blood donation in the event of a crisis or rare blood type scarcity.

These initiatives seem to be going well: since launching in January 2016, LifeBank has worked with 5565 donors to serve 380 hospitals. It has moved 9771 units of blood to hospitals and screening centers, and has saved 1626 lives in the process. That's not all for LifeBank - Temie explains; “We are also launching a LifeBank SmartBag Tag which uses blockchain technology to help patients and health care providers discover safety records for blood and other medical products. By recording safety information via blockchain, the integrity of the record remains.