New centre to help Nigeria clean up its blood

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo launched a major blood bank and transfusion project on Thursday, donating blood at a new centre that hopes to begin cleaning up the Aids-contaminated blood supply in Africa’s most-populous nation.

Spearheaded by a United States charity called Safe Blood for Africa and funded with hundreds of millions of US government and corporate dollars, Abuja’s National Blood Transfusion Service is the first of a planned seven transfusion centres in the country.

Obasanjo said Nigeria must move away from “the current practice of relying on touts, blood sellers and other questionable sources” for blood exchange.

“Today’s event marks a turning point in our quest to establish a national blood transfusion service,” Obasanjo said, calling on all healthy Nigerians to give blood before donating himself in front of television cameras and an audience of dozens.

Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Eyitayo Lambo, acknowledged at the opening ceremony that many deaths are caused by blood transfusions at centres run without official oversight.

Jeff Busch, who heads Safe Blood for Africa, said data from about one million blood tests by his organisation and hospitals showed that more than 10% of Nigerian blood donations are infected with HIV/Aids. The official HIV/Aids rate among Nigeria’s 130-million people is 5,4%.

Blood for Nigerian transfusions is often provided by black-market suppliers who rely on paid donors and falsely label blood as tested, and even many state-run hospitals fail to screen their blood, Busch said.

Lambo described the current blood-transfusion system as “chaotic”.

“My ministry had previously embarked on many ad hoc measures to improve blood-transfusion services in the country, but none of these has had any impact,” he said. “Blood continued to be scarce and many avoidable deaths occurred.”—Sapa-AP

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