EDITORIAL: Improve blood bank strategies

Tuesday October 29 2019


Established in 1996 as a semi-autonomous part of the Health ministry, the Dar es Salaam-based Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI) is about the only comprehensive specialized facility for cancer care in Tanzania.

Its mission is to provide “high-quality cancer control services that are equitable, accessible and affordable through cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment, as well as research and training.” In that regard, the Institute currently serves more than 50,000 patients a year – with some sneaking in (for lack of a better word) from Zambia, Malawi and Kenya next-door! Sad to say, Tanzania is increasingly becoming the victim of the devastating effects of cancer. It’s estimated that 40,000 new cancer cases are reported annually – 80 per cent of whom die from the malady. This is to say nothing of the unknown cases that are never reported, or remain undetected, officially speaking!

The foregoing aside, however, the Institute continues to be plagued with myriad challenges – not least of which is the availability at all times of sufficient blood for transfusion. According to the ORCI acting director of Treatment Services, Dr Mark Mseti, while the Institute requires 40-50 units of transfusion blood daily, it has in the past two weeks been able to access only about 20 units daily. This must be devastating. Most unfortunately, the problem isn’t confined to ORCI; it’s nationwide, plaguing other non-communicable diseases patients, mother-and-child care units, etc.

It’s crucial for all such cases to have rapid access to adequate, safe and affordable blood for transfusion, among other strategies that give succour. The World Health Organisation has an integrated strategy for safe and effective use of blood that includes the establishment of a centralised, nationally-coordinated blood transfusion service. Tanzania must align its national safe blood plan with that. It must also never, ever, shy away from seeking guidance and assistance of our development partners in all this.