GPJ AFRICA — A blood transfusion is a common medical treatment around the world, but in many African nations, patients are often charged a high price or go without. In some countries, that’s because people don’t donate enough blood to meet the national need. Dozens of countries in Africa collect fewer than 10 donations per 1,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. More than half of all blood donations occur in high-income countries that are home, collectively, to 19 percent of the world’s population.
In countries that don’t collect enough blood to meet the demand, patients rely on friends and family members to donate blood on their behalf, to replenish the supply they use if they get a transfusion. Some hospitals refuse to give a patient a blood transfusion unless a blood donation is made on that patient’s behalf.
In more extreme cases, patients are charged a high price for blood and are refused medical treatment if they can’t pay.
Global Press Journal reporters in nine African countries asked health officials about blood supply, the cost of a transfusion and what happens when a patient can’t afford to pay for it.
Average cost to collect, test and store a unit of blood: 10,000 Kenyan shillings (about $97).
Cost to patients: Blood donors aren’t compensated for giving blood, so patients at government hospitals can get blood free of charge.
Other factors: Kenya is experiencing a blood shortage because of the high cost of collecting and storing it. When blood is available, the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service supplies it to hospitals from centers around the country.
Source: Joseph Kamotho, public relations officer, Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service
— Lydia Matata, GPJ Kenya
ADDITIONAL READING: A blood shortage in Democratic Republic of Congo has one woman encouraging other women to donate blood regularly. (Read that story here.)
Processing fee: Blood is never sold in Ghana, but patients pay a processing fee of 50 to 200 Ghanaian cedi (about $11 to $45), to cover expenses.
Replacement requirement: Patients who receive blood transfusions are often asked to ensure that someone replaces the amount used on their behalf, regardless of blood type.
Other factors: Patients who cannot pay the processing fee but who urgently need a blood transfusion do receive one, but they must arrange to pay the fee at a later date.
Source: Dr. Isaac Ajongba, Trinity Community Hospital, Ashaiman
— Lilly Mensah, GPJ Ghana
Average cost to collect, test and store a unit of blood: About $80.
Cost to patients: Patients receive blood free of charge.
Adequate supply: Anyone who needs a blood transfusion receives it.
Source: Olivier Ndahiriwe, senior officer, National Centre for Blood Transfusion
— Noella Nyirabihogo, GPJ DRC/Rwanda
Cost to patients: It’s illegal for a public or private health facility to charge a patient for blood.
Donors: School students donate blood throughout the year. They’re not paid, but, budget allowing, they’re offered refreshments. Adults can also donate blood, but they’re never paid.
Adequate supply: Zambia occasionally experiences a blood shortage, but in general the supply is steady.
Source: Dr. Maximillian Bweupe, spokesman, Ministry of Health
— Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia
Full government financing: The Ugandan government covers 100 percent of the costs associated with blood collection, storage, distribution and use.
Cost to patients: Blood is always free to patients.
Adequate supply: There are occasional shortages of rare blood types, but in general the supply meets the need.
Source: Vivian Serwanjja, public relations officer, Ministry of Health
— Apophia Agiresaasi, GPJ Uganda
Average cost to collect, test and store a unit of blood: That depends on the agreement a hospital or clinic makes with a donor. Some donors give blood for free, but others expect payment, usually of 5,000 Central African francs (about $9). Most hospitals spend about 30,000 Central African francs (about $54) on other related costs for each unit of donated blood.
Cost to patients: Hospitals and clinics all have their own systems. Patients at Padre Pio Catholic Hospital in Douala usually pay between 12,000 (about $21.50) and 13,000 (about $23.40) Central African francs.
Other factors: Leftover blood purchased by a patient can be used to help other patients who are in dire need but cannot afford to buy it themselves. In emergency cases, hospital personnel sometimes donate blood to save a patient.
Source: Kenneth Tawong, lab technician, St. Padre Pio Hospital in Douala, Cameroon and lab technicians in private laboratories
— Irene Zih Fon, GPJ Cameroon
Average cost to collect, test and store a unit of blood: About $100.
Cost to patients: About $100 to cover the cost of collection and storage. The only exceptions are for patients of any age who can prove that they’ve donated blood at least 10 times within the past 12 months, 25 times in a lifetime or is an active donor under the age of 21 who has made at least five donations. Everyone else, including small children, must pay.
Other factors: In most cases, patients who cannot afford to pay $100 for a unit of blood do not receive the treatment they need, even if they urgently require it. In extremely rare cases, young children or seniors can get blood on credit.
Source: Esther Massundah, public affairs manager, National Blood Service, Zimbabwe
— Linda Mujuru, GPJ Zimbabwe
Average cost to collect, test and store a unit of blood: About $94.
Cost to patients: About 5,000 naira ($13.93) per unit if blood is available, but the National Blood Transfusion Service doesn’t collect enough blood to meet the country’s demand so many patients do not receive the transfusions they need.
Other factors: Patients, particularly women who are about to give birth, are encouraged to have friends or family members donate blood on their behalf. Such donations replenish a hospital’s supply and enable patients to receive the blood they need.
Source: Dr. Omo Izedonmwen, National Blood Transfusion Service
— Temitayo Olofinlua, GPJ Nigeria
Democratic Republic of Congo:
Average cost to collect, test and store a unit of blood: Costs may vary, but it’s about $107 for clinics in eastern DRC’s North Kivu province.
Cost to patients: Each hospital and clinic sets its own rate, but most in North Kivu province charge about $16.
Other factors: Eastern DRC is experiencing a severe blood shortage, due in part to a reluctance among people to donate blood.
Source: Dr. Liliane Bwiza, coordinator, Provincial Center for Blood Transfusion, Goma
— Esther Nsapu, GPJ DRC