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

Germany Celebrates 25 Years of Unity

October 3 is a public holiday, marking the day in 1990 when East Germany and West Germany reunited More

Analysts: Russia's Syria Strikes Shake Regional Powers

If Moscow bolsters Assad, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries may feel obliged to step in More

Video Innovative Nano-Tech Water Filter Prevents Disease

It can absorb contaminants like copper, bacteria, viruses and pesticides, says Askwar Hilonga, who has been successfully trying out his product in Arusha More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs