Accessibility links

'Walking Blood Bank' Could Save Lives in Remote Areas

  • Tom Banse

FILE - Blood units in storage at National Center for Hematology and Transfusion in Sofia, Bulgaria.

A blood network in the Pacific Northwest has developed a kit for transfusions in remote places that it says "takes the banking out of blood banking."

A blood transfusion can often be the difference between life and death. Hospitals have stored blood on hand for people gravely injured in car accidents, and new mothers suffering from potentially fatal postpartum hemorrhaging. In areas far from hospitals and blood banks – like battlefields - combat medics have trained to do a procedure sometimes called a buddy transfusion. They rapidly collect and transfuse blood on scene after making a match between donor and patient.

Now the technique is bleeding over into the civilian world where it could save tens of thousands of lives every year.

Linda Barnes, chief operating officer at Bloodworks Northwest in Seattle, says the military was the model for what is, essentially, a walking blood bank. "Blood banking of stored blood certainly is not going away anytime soon. But in low resource settings, having banked blood available -- and the logistics and the refrigeration required -- simply isn't feasible in the near term."

Barnes has done a lot of international consulting about strengthening blood systems in places such as Ivory Coast, Kenya, Ukraine and the Caribbean islands. One thing from those trips that nagged her was how many patients in the developing world die each year for lack of blood, especially women giving birth. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 100,000 new mothers perish from profuse bleeding after childbirth each year.

Aisha Suleiman, 32, breastfeeds her day-old child. She experienced postpartum hemorrhage during the delivery and lost three pints of blood.(Photo: Chika Oduah for VOA)
Aisha Suleiman, 32, breastfeeds her day-old child. She experienced postpartum hemorrhage during the delivery and lost three pints of blood.(Photo: Chika Oduah for VOA)

Barnes and a colleague challenged themselves to build a simple, self-contained blood transfusion kit in a shoebox. The off-the-shelf components they assembled didn't quite fit into a shoebox, so the Bloodpak expanded to backpack size.

It contains everything caregivers at remote rural clinics need to collect and transfuse blood: from alcohol wipes and bandages to blood typing and disease testing test kits to sterile catheters and needles. There are enough supplies to collect blood from six donors.

No refrigeration is needed for any of this because the blood goes from the donor to the recipient in minutes. The Bloodpak comes with step-by-step guidance on an app that clinic workers can install on their smartphones. That app could also be used to send a mass text to registered villagers to come to their clinic to give blood in an emergency -- in theory.

Putting it into practice

Recently, Bloodworks Northwest demonstrated its prototype to a Seattle company called Remote Medical International. The fast-growing company supplies medical personnel and support for isolated work places. Clinical Operations Director Loreen Lock foresees a variety of applications for the BloodPak, in oil and gas exploration for example, or mining, construction and by military contractors.

One thing she brought up was informed consent and the advance legwork that might be needed to deploy this in a civilian setting. "Part of the discussion evolved into how to do that in the developing world where there are social concerns, religious concerns. What does the local medicine man, if you will, think of the whole concept? Are they willing to sign off on it or not?"

Although it is not their primary market, Lock says there is undoubtedly great need in sub-Saharan Africa for a portable blood transfusion kit to address postpartum hemorrhaging.

The Bloodpak contains everything a clinic worker needs to safely collect and administer blood.
The Bloodpak contains everything a clinic worker needs to safely collect and administer blood.


Bloodworks Northwest just learned it is in line for a roughly $500,000 grant from the British foreign aid department. That will launch the next phase of product development: feasibility and acceptability testing at four rural clinics in western Kenya, beginning early next year.

Barnes estimated the Bloodpak would cost around $300 once in mass production. The company has identified clinics and partners for further field testing in Nepal and Uganda. After the validation phase, she said Bloodworks Northwest would likely partner with a medical supply chain company to commercialize the portable transfusion kit.

XS
SM
MD
LG