October 1, 2022
[FILES] Blood Donor (Photo by Mohammed HUWAIS / AFP)
There’s no life without blood. No alternative to it. Blood is life. But there are times when, due to a health emergency, one becomes critically in need of blood. This could be consequent upon a ghastly accident, a woman who had severe bleeding during child delivery, a serious child anaemic condition or even an organ transplant, necessitating a safe blood transfusion to sustain the life of the victim. This transfusion can only happen if blood availability is guaranteed. And therein lies the challenge- making blood available to those who need it to stay alive. That’s where Jela’s Development Initiatives, JDI’s, J Blood Match Artificial Intelligence (AI) comes in to salvage the situation, especially with institutional support and that of other key stakeholders in the health sector.
Bleak statistics 
On June 14, 2022, Nigeria joins other countries in marking this year’s edition of the World Blood Donor Day, WBDD, a day set aside to create global sensitisation on the need for safe blood and blood products for transfusion and the vital contribution which voluntary blood donors make to the health systems of their countries. It also provides a veritable opportunity to make a clarion call to governments and health institutions to make ample resources available, formulate necessary policies and set up structures that ensure the availability of blood from voluntary, non-remunerated blood donors. The slogan for this year’s WBDD is “Donating blood is an act of solidarity. Join the effort and save lives”, and it is geared at drawing attention to the roles that unpaid, voluntary blood donations play in saving lives and enhancing solidarity within communities.
Having set that context, it’s important to share some statistics from last year’s WBDD to give you a snapshot of the Nigerian situation. In her message to mark the 2021 WBDD, the Regional Director for Africa, WHO, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, stated that yearly, an average of seven million Africans need a safe blood transfusion to survive. According to Moeti, Nigeria, inhabited by about 200 million people, needs an average of 1.8 million pints of blood on an annual basis to sustain the health of its people.
But the National Blood Transfusion Service, NBTS, saddled with the onus of providing safe, quality blood and blood products for transfusion to all who may need it, disclosed in 2021, that it collects only 500,000 pints of blood annually. That gives us a shortfall of over 70 percent, a figure that evinces the large lacuna in the country’s blood supply chain. Of these 500,000 pints, only about 25,000 were obtained from voluntary, unpaid donors in 2019 and 2020, according to the Head of Planning, Research and Statistics, NBTS, Adaeze Oreh. The import is that a preponderance of the blood units was commercially sourced. In terms of voluntary unpaid blood donation, Nigeria has one of the lowest rates in Africa.
J Blood Match AI to the rescue
Jela’s Development Initiatives, a non-governmental organisation, founded by a Mandela Washington Fellow and consummate broadcaster, Angela Ochu-Baiye, launched the J Blood Match, Artificial Intelligence (AI) on November 21, 2019, to serve as an effective platform that seamlessly connects those in need of blood with voluntary, unpaid donors at no cost. This is so novel! With this AI, JDI is innovatively building a solid blood donor network accessible through platforms such as Facebook and Telegram.
The J Blood Match AI is integrated into these platforms and employs AI to collect donor demographic data- gender, location, age, contact- and blood group, which now constitute the donor profile. So, when you’re in need of blood, you simply go to the platform, register with the same data, including the needed blood group, to build a profile of some sort, and the AI sorts through the system and finds a match who is closest to you, depending on available donor data.
Assuming you get a match, the system sends a message to the donor, informing them of a blood need at a hospital close to them. They have the option of accepting or declining the request. If they accept, the system alerts the recipient, forwards the donor’s contact and both arrange for the donation off the platform. The cost of blood screening is borne by the recipient.
JDI’s J Blood Match provides a platform to enable the recipient to get a blood match for free while also giving the donor some ‘humanitarian gratification’- the innate satisfaction of having saved a life or promoted human welfare. This encourages more people to donate freely and improves the voluntary donation statistics in Nigeria. You get a blood match from a voluntary donor closest to your hospital or health centre at no cost. This is so easy! After a successful donation, the recipient acknowledges this on the J Blood Match platform. In a case where the donor doesn’t show up, the recipient can make another request on the platform.
If the person needing blood is unable to request it on the platform, probably due to the criticality of their condition, someone else can register and make the request on their behalf. There are options for this on the platform.
The J Blood Match initiative gives the unpaid donor an opportunity to get their blood screened, and the result can be further used to improve their health since donors must be screened willy-nilly. JDI’s AI-powered platform is proving to be a very effective means of closing the subsisting gap between blood demand and supply and has shown promise in changing the grim blood donation narrative in Nigeria. 
The founder’s thoughts
Angela Ochu-Baiye, the Founder of JDI, said: “JDI has been in the social business of creating awareness for blood donation and organising blood drives in Abuja, under the auspices of the NBTS, even before we decided to develop this very innovative AI. 
A lot of due diligence was carried out. We obtained a list of verifiable health centres/hospitals from the Federal Ministry of Health and uploaded it on the platform to avoid any likelihood of fraud in the process. Hence, the AI will only process requests from recipients in government-verified hospitals. It’s free. All you need do is to access it on the Facebook or Telegram apps and register.
Even if you don’t need blood, you can register as a voluntary, unpaid donor. You’ll be saving a life. The system has been configured in such a way that it guarantees the safety of the donor and the recipient. Also, as medically required, we don’t permit more than one blood donation in three months for males and four months for females. So, the platform doesn’t process donation requests within three or four months of the last donation. The AI is programmed to flag this.
“We record a high rate of avoidable deaths in Nigeria, and we can reduce the incidence drastically if we embrace the J Blood Match AI. JDI is looking to expand the application of the system to cover other neighbouring African countries, but we want it to gain much popularity in Nigeria. Hence, we are open to partnership with key stakeholders in the health space to positively change the blood donation story of Nigeria”.
Health analysts’ perspectives
Some health analysts have also expressed glowing perspectives on J Blood Match AI. Dr Sunday Agbonika: “J Blood Match bot is a brilliant solution to an overwhelming problem. It’s a simple-to-navigate way of providing support thus saving a life. The best part, it creates a community where you both support and can be supported in a critical situation”.
 
Onyeka Awanye: “Blood Match is here to bridge a large gap in the area of blood donation for life-saving purposes. All hands need to be on deck to ensure that more and more donors come on board to be able to achieve deeper penetration and acceptability of donors to reach out to more people in need of blood transfusion”.
Aisha Hussein: “J Blood Match is such a creative and essential innovation. The first of its kind I have heard of as it helps increase the low pool of blood donors through advocates and non-remunerated donors. It’s very useful in case of emergencies and the bot is user friendly and informative”.
 
Conclusion
J Blood Match is unarguably a unique platform and will augment the efforts of the NBTS and other relevant actors in ensuring the availability of safe and quality blood for those who need it. It’s also very crucial that we support the JDI as it requires great funding to execute a robust awareness campaign for the platform and foster widespread adoption. J Blood Match AI has the potential to engender a paradigm shift in our blood donation culture, and concerted efforts are requisite.
Olisa, a PR consultant and social commentator, wrote from Lagos.
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