Meet BLOODSAFE. BLOODSAFE is a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)-led blood safety and availability program in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This program represents a more recent effort of scientific importance of the NHLBI.  In 2014, the NHLBI, in its commitment to advance research toward adoption – including globally, established its Center for Translation Research and Implementation Science (CTRIS). In 2017, NHLBI’s Division of Blood Diseases and Resources (DBDR) and CTRIS held a workshop with researchers and experts in transfusion medicine around the world to identify obstacles to safe blood transfusions in low-income and lower middle-income countries. With learnings from that workshop, NHLBI moved to establish the BLOODSAFE initiative to improve blood safety, increase blood donations, and deliver blood to areas that need it most. Phase 1 of BLOODSAFE kicked off in 2020, investigating problems and solutions for getting safe blood for transfusions to patients in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.

Fast fact: In the United States, someone needs blood every two seconds, and that requires a constant stream of donors. Yet over half the countries in Africa report having less than five donations per 1,000 people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Sub-Saharan Africa also has higher rates of sickle cell disease, anemia caused by malaria, and hemorrhage during childbirth, all of which even further increase the need for a safe supply of blood. 

Sweet inspiration: For NHLBI, the motivation is simple: to make transfusions a viable option for those living in places where safe blood is scarce. “There’s a huge need in Africa to improve the availability of safe blood for transfusions,” says BLOODSAFE’s program officer. The vision for BLOODSAFE goes beyond the three countries it currently serves. The NHLBI’s current approach aims to help other low- and lower middle-income countries with blood supply shortages, both in Sub-Saharan Africa and globally. 

Image: BLOODSAFE’s Image of investigators (minus the Kenya team).
BLOODSAFE’s investigators (minus the Kenya team).

Big impact. BLOODSAFE is building on NHLBI’s existing blood translation research to address major challenges that often prevent safe blood transfusions in Sub-Saharan Africa—the chief among them being a lack of blood donors. The program evaluates strategies to recruit donors and offer education and nutritional counseling to help improve their health and, as a result, improve blood donor recruitment and retention.  

Bright future. Currently, in Phase 2 of BLOODSAFE, researchers are evaluating their strategies. If proven effective and sustainable, those strategies could lead to improved ways to increase access to safe blood in SSA. Phase 2 will continue for the next two and half years as research teams evaluate the program’s data and impact. The teams hope the results will be successful enough to expand their efforts. BLOODSAFE’s teams also want to develop early-stage researchers who are interested in blood supply and blood transfusion.