Democratic Republic of Congo

Critical Shortage at DRC Blood Bank Has Fatal Consequences

The Kisangani blood bank in Democratic Republic of Congo suffers from lack of international aid and a short supply of blood reserves. Patients in need of transfusions must seek out donations themselves – but finding a donor is all but assured.

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Critical Shortage at DRC Blood Bank Has Fatal Consequences

Zita Amwanga, GPJ DRC

The blood bank in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo charges people $15 or more for a unit of blood, no matter how desperately someone needs it. Some seriously ill people have died because they couldn’t afford that fee.

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KISANGANI, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — Angel Saidi Gwabusu, 46, rushed her daughter, Gracia, to a blood bank. The 8-month-old needed a blood transfusion. Officials there told her that there was no blood available, so Gwabusu found someone willing to donate blood for her daughter, for $15.

Gwabusu paid the man, and Gracia received the transfusion.

But it wasn’t enough, the doctor said. Gracia needed a second transfusion – something Gwabusu couldn’t afford. The blood bank also charges at least $15 for a unit of blood, no matter how ill the potential recipient might be.

“Not a single penny was left in my satchel,” she says.

Instead, she feeds the baby a homemade syrup intended to ease anemia, the malaria-related condition Gracia developed.

As recently as 2013, Kisangani’s blood bank operated smoothly, providing blood to anyone who needed it. That’s when the bank had support from international aid agencies, local officials say. Now, those in need are forced to travel around the city, looking for blood donors, who often charge for the service.

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Zita Amwanga, GPJ DRC

Bags of blood are stored at Kisangani’s blood supply center. The city is one of the largest in Democratic Republic of Congo with more than 1 million people living in it, but there are fewer than 100 blood donors.

This problem is common throughout the region. Transfusions are free in some countries, but in others, recipients must find their own blood donors or pay a high price – as much as $100 per pint – to get the treatment they need. (Read more about this issue here.)

In Kisangani, some who need blood transfusions lose their lives.

Dr. Chérubin Mbongo, coordinator of the Programme National de Transfusion Sanguine, DRC’s blood-transfusion program for Tshopo province, says his center has just 10 percent of the blood reserve stock it should carry.

“The existing blood supplies are too inadequate to meet blood demands of people in the city of Kisangani,” Mbongo says.

The daily demand for blood in the area is as high as 50 units, he says. But there are fewer than 100 blood donors in the city of Kisangani, he says, and most of them donate irregularly.

There are more than 1 million people in Kisangani, and some estimates put the figure as high as 1.6 million.

The blood bank is forced to charge at least $15 per unit because it needs the money to stay afloat, Mbongo says.

The existing blood supplies are too inadequate to meet blood demands of people in the city of Kisangani.

Even seriously ill people who need blood must pay. There are no exceptions, he says.

Bernadette Furaha, the province’s minister of health, says the central government, based in Kinshasa, more than 2,500 kilometers (nearly 1,600 miles) away, will soon let Tshopo province manage its own funds earmarked for blood banks.

She did not confirm when that shift will happen or how much money might be available.

Meanwhile, the province’s lack of available blood has had fatal consequences. Furaha says 32 people in the province died in 2017 because they didn’t get blood transfusions.

Locals say it’s unfair to donate blood for free when those in need are charged for it.

Hervé Kitambala Tabu, a 26-year-old father, says he donated blood regularly after he saw a poster encouraging people to do so. But then his relative died from blood loss, he says, because the family couldn’t afford a transfusion.

“And yet, I donated blood for free,” he says.

He doesn’t donate blood anymore.

Ndahayo Sylvestre, GPJ, translated this article from French.