Cost of blood too high, says minister

HARARE - The Health Transition Fund (HTF) is providing  16 000 units of blood annually to government to fight Zimbabwe’s high maternal mortality, but the cost of blood on the end user remains too high, a Cabinet minister has said.

With blood retailing for $200 a unit on average, the 16 000 units from donors are worth  about $3,2 million, but that is still grossly inadequate to meet demand.

HTF is a multi-donor fund whose overall purpose is to improve maternal, new-born and child health care in Zimbabwe.
David Parirenyatwa, Health and Child Care minister, said the blood should be subsidised to improve access by pregnant mothers. 

“What is worrying us is the cost of blood on the end user,” said the minister during the World Blood Donor Day celebrations in Chinhoyi on Saturday.

“We had said pregnant mothers should get blood for free. There is a system called HTF which gives us funds enough to purchase 16 000 units of blood for pregnant mothers only. They get the blood for free.

“However, that blood is not enough for a whole year. We want our government to make sure that a significant amount of fiscus money goes to National Blood Service Zimbabwe (NBSZ) so that they can bring the costs down”.

The country’s maternal mortality rate now stands at 525 per every 100 000 live births. The global average is 287 per every 100 000 live births.

Parirenyatwa said if all Zimbabweans contribute in small meaningful ways, many mothers could be saved from dying during pregnancy or childbirth related complications.

“You cannot manufacture blood. It has to come out of a human being into another human being,” Parirenyatwa said.

“We appealed to National Aids Council (NAC) and they are contributing. We are appealing to other entities within government and private sector so they sponsor us so mothers’ lives can be saved.”

While the national blood bank is supplied by voluntary unpaid donors, in West Africa donors demand cash up front, according to Parirenyatwa.

The commemorations, which coincided with NBSZ’s 25th anniversary, were held under the theme Safe Blood for Saving Mothers.

David Okello, the WHO country representative, said government should prioritise blood provision to reduce “the unacceptably high maternal mortality.”

“Blood is essential as is essential medicines,” Okello said.

“When you need it, you must just get it or else you die and in Zimbabwe we are just losing too many mothers. It is too much, we cannot allow this to continue.”

David Mvere, NBSZ chief executive officer, said more funds were needed for the upgrade of blood processing equipment to ensure the availability of safe blood.

“Technology is changing rapidly in the world, blood transfusion processes are similar,” he said.

“We have to keep up with technology to ensure new infections, viruses and products are detected and processed in line with the rest of the world.”

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