Cameroon Officials Campaign Against Taboos to Encourage People to Donate Blood

Blood banks in Cameroon are usually close to empty due to widely held taboos against blood donation. Officials in the central African country are trying to convince people to move past those beliefs amid an increased demand for blood and blood products in hospitals and on the front lines where soldiers are fighting separatists and Islamist militants. The effort comes ahead of World Blood Donor Day, observed on June 14. 

Illustrating the shortages is the story of a woman who told nurses at the Yaounde military hospital that she has not found anyone to donate blood to save the life of her two-year-old son. 

Hospital workers said the 34-year-old fruit seller’s blood was infected and that it could not be transfused to her son.

Medical staff members have requested blood from government hospitals to save the child’s life, the hospital said, adding that the blood bank at the military hospital is empty.

Celestin Ayangma, head of the laboratory that is in charge of the hospital’s blood bank, said that since January of this year, the Yaounde military hospital had been able to provide only six of the 20 units of blood it needs every day. Ayangma added that patients eventually die if they do not have relatives, friends or other donors to give the blood that the patients need.

By midday on Tuesday, the baby was still waiting for blood. 

Cameroon’s public health ministry reported that in 2022, hospitals in the country were able to collect a little more than 120,000 pints of blood from voluntary donors, family members and friends of sick patients. 

But each year, Cameroon needs at least 600,000 pints of blood for both private and government-owned hospitals.

The government says blood donation needs in Cameroon are increasing due to the separatist conflict in the country’s western regions and fighting with Boko Haram militants on the northern border with Nigeria. 

This year, government officials, health workers and aid agencies took to the streets ahead of World Blood Donor Day, trying to convince people to donate blood and save lives.

Ruth Abeng of the Cameroon Medical Council, an association of Cameroonian doctors, took part in the campaign. She sayid there are very few voluntary blood donors in Cameroon as some people are compelled to donate blood only when they see their sick relatives and friends in need of blood and dying. She said it is disheartening to see patients dying because some of their relatives believe that a blood donation is mystical.

Some Cameroonians believe that if they give blood, the recipient will receive any good luck and success they’ve had in life. Others say God will punish them if they donate blood to an evil person. 

The government says such beliefs are unfounded and people should not be afraid to donate blood. 

The Ministry of Health also says donated blood is not sold as some people erroneously believe. Blood that is donated is stored in banks and transfused to people in need, the government says. 

Hospitals say patients pay a fee of about $50 for the hospital to test donated blood and make sure it is safe to use. 

The government gives donors about $10 in a bid to encourage more donations. 

Cameroon says it expects to raise about 20,000 pints of blood by June 14. 

Hospitals say the amount will not be enough to meet the country’s needs but that it will reduce suffering and prevent some people from dying.

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