YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Medical authorities in Cameroon marked World Blood Donor Day on Monday with continued pleas for blood donors, after a dramatic drop in donations over the past year. Donations fell by half in 2020, then by nearly half again so far this year, worsening the country's blood shortage.
Officials in Cameroon point to 32-year-old Alphonse Suh Chia as a good example of a determined, voluntary blood donor.
Chia says he became a blood donor in February, after he watched as a 6-year-old boy died of severe anemia in the Central Hospital in Yaounde. He says the medical staff members on duty told him that the blood bank was dry and there was no one to donate blood to save the child's life.
Chia says he was being treated for malaria at the hospital and could not donate blood at the time.
But since then, he says, he has joined an association called Green Hearts that donate blood to people in need.
Cameroon says it needs 400,000 pints of blood each year to meet the medical needs of its 25 million people. But in 2020, people donated just 48,000 units of blood, down from 103,000 units in 2019.
The central African state says blood donations have fallen again so far this year.
Dora Ngum Suh Mbanya, director general of Cameroon's National Blood Transfusion Center, says COVID-19 scares people away from donating blood.
"With the COVID pandemic in 2020, there was a deficit of 44 percent in blood donation," Mbanya said. "What we gathered is that COVID had a huge impact on blood donation. WHO set out criteria whereby, if you are a recovered person from COVID-19, you are allowed a month or so after recovery before you could be eligible to donate."
Mbyana says popular myths surrounding blood donation and transfusion are also an obstacle.
"There are those who think that you take their blood and do witchcraft with it and so they cannot donate their blood. There are those with religious beliefs that you cannot take blood from one person and give to the next person. Those kinds of people will not want to donate blood since they would not even receive it. And so, we want to encourage our young people to step forward and take leadership roles in promoting health in our nation through blood donation," Mbyana said.
With Cameroon battling a separatist crisis in two western regions, Boko Haram attacks in the north and occasional spillover of violence from the Central African Republic, the government says the need for blood to treat wounded civilians and fighters is higher than ever.