News / Africa

Virtual Blood Donors to Rescue South Sudan Patients

Virtual Blood Donors to Rescue South Sudan Patients
Virtual Blood Donors to Rescue South Sudan Patients
Hannah McNeish

Newly independent South Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world with some of the worst health statistics. Most people in the vast, rural nation will never visit a health center. But at the country’s leading hospital in the capital Juba, doctors say that patients who make it here often die due to a lack of blood. American doctors are now working to set up a system of “virtual” blood donors while the hospital battles a lack of power, storage and cultural barriers to set up a real blood bank.

In Juba Teaching Hospital’s Emergency Ward, the beds are packed and the light dim despite this being a day where the power is on in a city that suffers shortages for days at a time.

At the hospital’s laboratory, the only room that is powered by a backup generator, a handful of people wait to donate blood to their relatives. A family-size fridge in the corner contains around 20 pints of blood mostly designated for specific patients due for surgery.

Thirty-five-year-old Amin Gerald has come to donate blood for his wife who is scheduled for an operation to solve reproductive problems. A nurse at Torit Hospital, about six hours from here, Gerald often deals with patients that don’t understand the importance of giving blood.

He says taboos about blood donation in South Sudan often run stronger than ties to their nearest and dearest, and he is only “sacrificing himself” for his partner now as there is no one else to donate.

“According to what I’ve been learning from them, they believe that giving somebody blood is different blood altogether. How come it will mix itself to your own to make you survive? Unless the person is told the details and importance of that one, that’s why he or she can accept to give the blood, but not necessarily,” Gerald said.

In addition to varying tribal beliefs, doctors say they face widespread fears that sharing blood is unnatural and will make you sick, and relatives often refuse to give blood to dying loved ones.

When they do, lab technicians have a fight on their hands to try to give blood to patients in desperate need over others for which it has been donated. They say too many people are dying unnecessarily.

Matthew Fentress is a doctor from Harvard University hospital in the United States who is working in the emergency ward here.  He says that the lack of resources and awareness about blood donation are major setbacks to trying to build a real blood bank.

To try to combat this, Fentress and other doctors have set up a “virtual blood bank” of volunteers already screened who can come in at short notice to replenish stocks.

He hopes the initiative will allow blood in the small fridge to be diverted to emergencies and stop the doctors having to watch patients die needlessly in emergencies or even common cases of anemia and malaria.

“It’s very, very difficult when we see that happening and we can’t , I mean if we don’t have the blood, there’s not much we can do for them. It grew out of seeing that and it started out with a couple of colleagues who said gosh, if you ever need blood just call me. So we did that once and then thought, why don’t we expand that and have more people on a list who would give blood? We’re small now but we’re going to expand,” Fentress said.

Doctor Kuma Chuol says that bleeding is the number one cause of maternal mortality in the hospital and hopes the scheme expands.

“It is just the beginning and I hope it succeeds. But I think they need assistance from the communities. There must be medical education or health education for the communities so that they accept to come and donate freely so that we have enough blood in our blood bank,” Chuol said.

Laboratory staff say that in addition to concerns about contracting diseases from donating, patients often don’t want to go through the blood screening process in fear they might discover they have an existing disease. Those testing positive for HIV often flee the scene instead of seeking treatment.

A central blood bank that can hold up to 200 pints is being built at the hospital next year. But unless taboos are broken down, filling it will be a big challenge.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs