Saving Lives One Drop at a Time: How One Doctor is Improving Blood Donation in Afghanistan
All it takes is a few minutes to provide a blood donation. First, a nurse finds a suitable vein. Then, a sterile needle is inserted and the blood is collected safely and securely into a sterile blood bag, embarking on its journey towards saving a life. Without blood donors and their voluntary contribution in providing this vital lifeline for blood transfusions, many persons – old and young, women and children, ill and injured – would face fatal consequences.
Despite the simplicity of the donation process, Afghanistan faces a shortage of blood. Even in Kabul, with centralized blood banks and a large population, there are still very few blood donors due to public misconceptions of blood donation. People who can give blood are often influenced by myths or believe that blood donations may cause body weakness and are also unaware of the physiological process by which the body regenerates blood following a donation. In addition, outside of Kabul and across the country, there are still very few doctors trained in hematology who have the knowledge to facilitate the proper utilization of blood within hospitals.
In this vacuum, the Afghan Ministry of Public Health formed the Afghanistan National Blood Safety and Services (ANBSTS) and tasked its new National Director, Dr. Ahmad Masoud Rahmani, with creating organized and sustainable programs for collecting blood. Though a doctor, Rahmini had never managed a project as large and of this nature before, and sought international experts for their guidance. His search led him to CRDF Global's Afghanistan Professional Network Building, Training and Exposure Program.
The Afghanistan Professional Network Building, Training and Exposure Program is funded by the U.S. government's, Cooperative Biological Engagement Program and creates opportunities for Afghan biological scientists, researchers, other bioscience experts to build relationships with their U.S. counterparts through visits and training in the U.S. During their visits to the U.S., participants enrich their scientific knowledge, establish new professional contacts, and develop valuable professional skills. As a participant of the program, Dr. Rahmani was able to meet with biosecurity and public health experts from the U.S. who trained him on best practices of biological and laboratory safety, public health policy analysis, program management, and blood donation services.
After completing his two week program in the U.S., Dr. Rahmani returned to Afghanistan and began work with Kabul’s city administrators and the country’s Ministry of Health to establish the country’s first blood donation network. Utilizing what he learned during this time in the U.S., he established a campaign to encourage Afghan to donate blood, lobbied for more resources to provide for the storage and distribution of donated blood, and developed and led ANBSTS programs training hematologists on biosafety best practice for conducting blood donations. It didn’t take long for his work to pay off. Due to Dr. Rahmani’s efforts, the ANBSTS conducted the largest blood drive in Afghanistan’s history involving the ANBSTS, the National Police and Army Health Services, the Office of the Presidential Palace, the U.S. Embassy, and the Afghan Red Crescent Society in 2015 raising 100,000 units of blood.
In part due to the success of Dr. Rahmani’s 2015 blood drive, the ANBSTS has managed to develop and maintain a voluntary blood donor program that coordinates the donation of blood in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan. Though Afghanistan continues to be affected by a variety of social, political, and economic problems, Dr. Rahmani remains optimistic about the work and future of the ANBSTS. “The ANBSTS is moving in the right direction,” he says, “expanding blood donation and transfusion services across the country… which has and will continue to contribute to saving the lives of thousands of Afghans.”
About the ANBSTS
The Afghanistan National Blood Safety and Transfusion Services (ANBSTS) was established in 2009 as part of the Ministry of Public Health. Since then it has received multiple recognitions from the national and international stakeholders inside and outside Afghanistan. In 2010 it was honored with USAID’s “Leadership and Management Award,” and has also received other honors from the European Union and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Since its inception, the ANBSTS team has been invited to approach top leaders within the Afghan government including, President Ashraf Ghani and ex-President Hamid Karzai, as well as country representatives for World Health Organization, the US and Canadian Embassy staffs, the Canadian International Development Agency, EU, ISAF, and many others key players to hold blood donation drives.