a unit of blood on an IV pole


Whether you feel squeamish, anxious, curious, or any other of the multitude of emotions felt towards the substance, everyone has a reaction to it, and everyone has it: blood.

In North America, we often take for granted that when we need blood, it will be there. We are called to donate, told ‘it’s in you to give,’ and informed when there are specific needs—yet we rarely experience a shortage, or lack of the life-saving liquid.

In Uganda, and much of East Africa, this is not the case. Blood drives exist, and in fact are quite common in some areas, yet there is an unfulfilled need for more, especially at smaller, locally accessible health care facilities. If they do have any blood, it may not be the right type. There may not be enough units to sustain a mother suffering a post-partum hemorrhage (the most common cause of death for mothers in Uganda). Even if the hospital does have access to a supply of blood, there may not be a fridge to properly store it, or consistent electricity to power the refrigerator. There may not be someone on staff who knows how to record, track and use the donor blood when it is needed.

Given these challenges and others, the chance for a mother, baby, or other community member surviving the need for blood, grows slimmer.

Beyond encouraging and mobilizing blood drives within communities, it is critical for maternal health advocates to ensure that when a need for blood arises, blood is there.

Midwives and doctors at Uganda’s Kawolo Hospital have a lifesaving tool to respond to the need for blood—they utilize the toll-free line established and sponsored by Save the Mothers, to call neighbouring Mother Baby Friendly Hospitals to see if there is blood available. Calling another health centre allows them to determine whether blood will be available, whether they ought to spend highly valued fuel to obtain it, and that the other facility has people on staff to retrieve it for them. Visiting Kawolo one day, I met a mother who lived this story just the day before—yet, because of the quick thinking of the healthcare team, both she and her newborn were doing well.

There is need for resources, of course. But there is also a need for systems and ingenuity in the use of those resources, within, between and amongst health facilities and communities, enabling health care workers to save mothers and their babies.

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