Uganda faces blood shortage as people shun donations due to corruption, superstition

Country also struggling with interruptions in supply of blood donor kits, testing reagents

Godfrey Olukya???????   | 06.05.2022
Uganda faces blood shortage as people shun donations due to corruption, superstition Credit:


Helen Namusobya wails outside a hospital in Uganda's eastern Bugiri district. She just lost her sister, who died while giving birth.  

She needed a blood transfusion but failed to raise the 100,000 shillings ($29) asked by the doctor to obtain one. 

"My sister would have not died if the blood was available. What kind of medical workers are those who care more about money than the lives of citizens?" she shouted in anger. 

She is not alone. Many Ugandans in need of blood transfusions have found themselves in such situation. 

"It is not easy to get blood transfusions in this country without paying some money to the medical officers. Just like drugs at government hospitals are not distributed for free, even blood is not given out for nothing," Abu Muyanda, a local leader in Bugiri, told Anadolu Agency. 

Sarah Mutegombwa, a program manager for blood donor recruitment at the Uganda Red Cross Society, said they are aware of some people who work at hospitals who sell blood, and that they condemn the act.

"We heard about it. It is illegal for anyone to sell or buy blood. We have launched a campaign in which we teach people about their rights as far as blood-related issues are concerned and the process to go through if there is a need for a blood transfusion," she said. 

Mutegombwa said it is not easy to nab those who sell blood because patients fear bringing them before the police or health authorities. 

Uganda Blood Transfusion Services, the institution mandated to collect, test, store, and distribute blood, said in a statement that no one is supposed to sell blood because they get it free from donors.  

Shortage of blood 

According to the World Health Organization’s Global Database on Blood Safety, a country should be able to collect blood equivalent to 1% of its population. Uganda has an estimated population of about 46 million but collects far below the required amount. 

Mutegombwa said that like elsewhere in the world, blood supplies have never been enough.

"With our population of over 45 million, we are supposed to collect at least 450,000 units of blood annually, but we collect only 300,000 units."

"A lack of information and discouraging cultural and religious beliefs about blood donation hinder many people from donating blood. Some people look at donating blood as a taboo. They associate it with human sacrifice," she added. 

Jerome Mwanga, in charge of the blood collection and storage in eastern Uganda, said: "Some Ugandans, especially the illiterate, fear donating blood because they do not want to know their HIV status. They fear that the tests taken on people before they donate blood can reveal that they are positive, which most of them fear."

He said others fear that if they donate blood, their blood supply will dwindle and lead them to death. 

John Waisagala, an anti-corruption activist in the eastern city of Jinja, said "many people do not want to donate blood because of the corruption at hospitals. Medical workers sell blood to patients, yet they get it freely from donors. That discourages people from donating blood." 

Stella Namuddu, a nurse but also a volunteer in collecting blood in the central district of Masaka, said that another problem causing shortage of blood is interruptions in the supply of blood donor kits and testing reagents.  

Government efforts 

At times, shortages of blood at hospitals in Uganda, especially in rural areas, last for several days and according to statistics from various hospitals, some people die due to these shortages. 

As one of the ways of solving the problem, the Health Ministry and a number of non-governmental organizations hold blood donation drives across the country to normalize the situation. Students are also encouraged to donate blood. 

"Kingdoms, companies, and individuals once in a while carry out blood donation activities as one of the ways of boosting blood collection in the country. We appreciate their efforts in boosting blood collection,” said Dr. Morris Odongo of Mulago National Referral Hospital. 

The government plans to put in place facilities that can store blood in rural health centers. 

According to the Health Ministerial Policy Statement for the Financial Year 2021/2022, it is estimated that 8,400 mothers are referred to regional referral hospitals annually because local health centers lack the capacity to perform obstetric care as they cannot transfuse blood. The ministry said it is looking for 2.2 billion Ugandan shillings (nearly $620,000) to install blood fridges in 89 local health centers across the country. 

Students are Uganda’s biggest blood donors. “This is because they are easily accessible while at school,” said Mutegombwa, adding that Uganda has around 80,000-90,000 registered blood donors and most of them donate twice a year. 

Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng said in a media interview recently that her ministry is doing its best to see that there is enough blood at all hospitals in Uganda, although it faces some challenges like inadequate funding.

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