A study of blood transfusion services at a district hospital in Malawi


Nils C. T. Karlsen, Department of Immunology and Transfusion Medicine, Oslo University Hospital Ulleval, PO Box 4956 Nydalen, 0424 Oslo, Norway
E-mail: nilschristian83@gmail.com


Background and objectives  Severe anaemia is an important cause of mortality in developing countries. However, few studies have explored the use of and possibilities for blood transfusion services. The aims of this study are to explore the use of blood transfusion services at a hospital in sub-Saharan Africa and to assess the quality of the transfusion services according to WHO guidelines.

Materials and methods  Patient age, gender, haemoglobin (Hb) level, diagnosis, hospital department and replacement donations were recorded for all blood transfusions administered at a district hospital in Malawi in January 2010. The laboratory equipment and procedures were scored according to WHO guidelines.

Results  The mean Hb of transfused patients was 4·8 g/dl. Fifty-seven per cent (59/104) of the transfusions were given to children diagnosed with malaria, and 17% (18/104) were given to pregnant women. During the study period, blood was in stock and available for transfusion within 1 h of requisition. The equipment and procedures at this hospital met the main criteria for an adequate WHO stage of development.

Conclusion  In contrast to the advanced transfusion medicine in developed nations, our findings highlight the persistent and urgent need for life-saving blood transfusions in especially young children and pregnant women in Africa. The results indicate that blood transfusion services adapted to local conditions may be a realistic solution for providing safe blood products in developing countries. Serious challenges, such as HIV transmission and sustainable organization of low-risk blood donations should be addressed to assure access to safe blood products.