How forging partnerships enabled universal access to safe blood in Nicaragua

Bags of donated blood. Since 2009, Nicaragua has achieved 100 percent of voluntary nonremunerated blood donation. Photo by: Holly A. Williams / U.S. Navy / CC BY

Worldwide, more than 34 million Red Cross and Red Crescent donors choose to give blood every year in exchange only for the satisfaction of knowing they may save a life.

By establishing innovative partnerships, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, along with partners like the World Health Organization and national health ministries are working toward 100 percent voluntary blood donation as a means to ensure universal access to safe blood.

While this is not an easy task, the Nicaraguan Red Cross’ National Blood Service Program has been able to achieve this over the past six years. Today, they are responsible for the collection, processing and distribution of voluntary blood donation products for the entire country.

However, things have not always been like this. Back in 2005 there were 24 blood banks nationwide — 20 managed by the Ministry of Health and four operated by the Nicaraguan Red Cross. In 2008, Nicaragua presented only 48 percent of voluntary blood donation, depending mostly on replacement donors, who donated blood on behalf of a friend or a relative in need.

But since 2009, Nicaragua has achieved 100 percent of voluntary nonremunerated blood donation. This has resulted in an increase of blood collection rate, from 106.6 units per 10,000 inhabitants in 2007 to 125.9 in 2011. During 2011, the Nicaraguan Red Cross actions towards voluntary blood donation impacted positively the lives of nearly 52,000 patients who benefited from blood transfusions.

So what did Nicaragua do differently to achieve its goal and what has this entailed? This has been made possible as a result of a partnership established between the Nicaraguan Red Cross and Ministry of Health’s National Center for Diagnosis and Reference. Reaching the goal of 100 percent voluntary blood donation has required:

● Establishing a centralized model of quality-assured blood collection, processing and distribution.

● Developing and consolidating a national network model for blood services.

● Signing a formal agreement with the Ministry of Health to turn hospital-based blood banks into transfusion services and achieve universal quality-assured laboratory testing of blood.

● Building new skills, competences and attitudes among administrative and technical staff.

● Raising awareness among blood donors

● Getting community volunteers involved in including members of Club 25 — a Nicaraguan Red Cross program where young people not only donate blood regularly, but also support in the logistics of blood drives, awareness and education campaigns and community-based activities in local neighborhoods — in raising awareness and funds.

● Strategically collecting blood at places where community groups regularly meet.

● Hiring and training personnel to promote and facilitate voluntary blood donation.

A strong and resilient health system is not possible without safe, sustainable and accessible blood supply and is only reachable by voluntary unpaid blood donation. Both health systems and blood services need to work together and be integrated to face challenges and find solutions.

We must continue to actively encourage nongovernmental organizations, governments, international development organizations, private companies and citizens to build sustainable long-term partnerships and to assert their commitment to save lives and to minimize deaths due to avoidable blood shortages.

Universal access to safe blood is key to reaching universal health coverage and helping to save millions of lives and improving the health of people. And this is only achievable through building strong alliances with key players and stakeholders.

Want to learn more? Check out the Healthy Means campaign site and tweet us using #HealthyMeans.

Healthy Means is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Concern Worldwide, Gavi, GlaxoSmithKline, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Johnson & Johnson and the United Nations Population Fund to showcase new ideas and ways we can work together to expand health care and live better lives.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • René Berríos

    Dr. René Berríos is the director of the National Blood Service and head of the Care Center for Hemophilia of the Nicaraguan Red Cross. Berríos has more than 24 years of experience in the area of blood services. His past leadership roles include director of the National Blood Program of Nicaraguan Red Cross from 2000 to 2009.