In Namibia, blood donations rise thanks to free transport to donor clinics

WindhoekA blood donor since 2018, Alfred Ndapanda had always considered his donations part of being a good citizen. But last year, the act hit closer to home than ever.

“My uncle was in hospital, in need of a blood transfusion,” recalls the 20-year-old University of Namibia student. “Whether or not the blood he got was mine, I was still part of the reason he received the transfusion because it meant there was blood to give.”

Alfred is among the many Namibians taking advantage of the Namibian Blood Transfusion Service, or NAMBTS, free transport programme introduced during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 to facilitate donations from people who may be hesitant to use public transport to access donor clinics.

The travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic have severely diminished blood collection activities. In pre-pandemic times, mobile blood drives on school and college campuses traditionally accounted for 30% of donations from first-time donors. By 2021, overall donations had declined by 20% from the previous year, with new donors down by 8% and lapsed donors – those who had not donated for more than 12 months – decreased by 6%.

Lack of transport or funds for transport has been hindering donation among lapsed donors, a significant portion of whom are low-income people. To reactivate donor activity, the NAMBTS system provides transport to and from donor clinics. Donors can call, text or email to arrange a free ride to a nearby clinic.

“I find it so convenient,” says Alfred. “NAMBTS makes it easier for me because usually I don’t have money to get to a clinic, which means I may end up not donating.

“Our house is far from the donation centre, but my little sister and I now regularly use NAMBTS transport services,” he adds.

Lorraine Nghisheefa, an accounting student at University of Namibia, helps organize fellow students to donate at donation centres.

“With classes moved online, no blood drives were being hosted on campus,” she explains. “NAMBTS arranges to pick us up from campus and drop us off after the donation. I’ve been able to donate a lot more regularly as a result of the transport service, and I will continue to help ensure there is sufficient blood for those who need it most.”

Since the start of the NAMBTS operation, donations from lapsed donors have increased from a five-year (2016-2020) average of 19% to 27% during 2021, while the proportion of repeat donors has increased from a five-year average of 68% to 74% in 2021. Donation frequency by repeat donors has increased from 1.8 donations per repeat donor in 2020 to 2.1 donations per donor.

“Success in improving blood donation partly depends on understanding the challenges that blood donors’ face in accessing clinics and finding innovative yet cost-effective solutions to address those challenges,” says Christina Gouws, Director of Namibia Blood Transfusion Service. “For Namibia, the provision of transport to blood donors or reimbursing transport costs for those in the low-income group has helped ensure adequate blood supply especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As encouraging as these figures are, Lorraine feels that NAMBTS should be extended even further.

“Rural areas and minority groups are sometimes left out when it comes to outreach programmes,” she points out. “I think that more outreach can be done to educate people on the importance of donating blood.

“It’s one of the most precious gifts a human can give to another,” she reflects. “Just knowing that my blood could save three lives is motivation enough for me to donate.”

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