One drop at a time - Scaling up Afghanistan's blood banks

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© WHO/Jin Ni

Jin Ni

FARIDULLAH... is lying on his hospital bed for the ninth day. He is a twenty-two-year-old college student. During the Eid celebration, he helped his family to slaughter a cow and felt sick afterwards. Fever, muscle ache, sore eyes… it took awhile, but the doctors finally diagnosed him with Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF). This is a serious tick-borne viral disease primarily transmitted to people from ticks or through contact with infected animal blood or tissues during and immediately after slaughter.


Faridullah was then quarantined at the Antani Hospital, a specialized hospital for infectious diseases in Kabul. First-line treatment of CCHF is transfusion of blood products, platelet suspension. This treatment was not possible in Afghanistan until early 2016, as specialized machines are needed to conduct plasma separation.

Now, things are different.

"Thanks to the WHO, we now have these machines in the Central Blood Bank of Afghanistan, so we can request all of the blood products from there. We have been using them to treat our CCHF patients here at the hospital, and they've been very effective.” Says Dr.Asadullah Esmat , the director of Antani hospital.

Faridullah's relatives have set up a corner of the garden to watch over him night and day. “The treatment is really helping him. We were really worried." said one of the uncles of the young man. "He has one more day to go for this round of treatment, and we are looking forward to bringing him back home."


Dr. Shamsurahman Abdulrahimzai works at Central Blood Bank of Afghanistan. He processes requests from hospitals in Kabul every day to make sure they receive fresh supplies of blood products every day.

WHO, with the support of European Commission Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), has been scaling up support to strengthen the capacity of blood banks around Afghanistan. Plasma separation, which can be used to treat a wide range of diseases, are now available in 10 regional and provincial hospitals around the country. Other equipment are also provided so that gathering, testing, storing and preserving blood becomes safer and more effective.

Faridullah Arghand came in today to donate his blood for his relative who was sick with CCHF. After an initial checkup, he was led to the blood donation room. There are many voluntary blood donors in Afghanistan who are regularly donating blood. Out of all blood donors, 56% are family donors, 43% are voluntary donors and 0.57% are paid donors.

“This machine really puts us ahead of the game. Now a single unit of blood can be used to benefit several patients." Says Dr.Enayatullah Hashemi, the director of National Blood Bank of Afghanistan. “Before we had no capacity to do platelet separation, but now things are different. In 2017, there were 8457 case requests, and this year, till the end of August, we already have 6877 case requests from different hospitals in Kabul. We are treating more and more patients every year."


"At ECHO, we are proud to enhance the resilience of the health system in Afghanistan." Says Philippe Bonhoure, Technical Assistant of ECHO in Afghanistan. "Thanks to the equipment deployed and the training provided to the personnel of the blood banks, the capacity to respond better to humanitarian situations will last long after the emergency funding."

“In order to enhance institutional capacities for mass casualty management and in view of the critical role of blood transfusion for reproductive health care and other life-threatening conditions, WHO has supported the blood bank services at the national and sub-national levels, ensuring safety standards in blood storage and transfusion." Says Dr. Mohammad Dauod Altaf, Health Emergency team leader of WHO Afghanistan, "Through ECHO contribution, WHO supported the training of blood bank staff, provided equipment and supplies to the blood banks, we also regularly monitor the safety standards at the field level.”

With the support of ECHO, WHO continues to support safe blood donation in Afghanistan through training health care providers on blood transfusion and blood bank management, supporting the blood transfusion service surveillance system and developing national guidelines and standards for blood transfusion. This means more and more health care worker are equipped to help people throughout the country.