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Surgical autotransfusion to address blood shortage

By Milliam Murigi
Monday, October 7th, 2019
A demonstration of how Hemafuse works. Photo/PD/Milliam Murigi

If you need an emergency blood transfusion, the doctor might show up with a soup ladle (large long-handled spoon with a cup-shaped bow).

Though it sounds funny, this is what most medical professionals use to scoop out pooled blood (in various emergency situation such as ruptured ectopic pregnancy), run it through gauze to filter out clots before pumping it back into the patient’s body.

With this method, a patient is never assured of clean and safe blood. Because of this, Amref Health Africa, Sisu Global Health and Suripharm have partnered to introduce a device that lets clinicians reuse a patient’s blood in a sterile way when they’re haemorrhaging (bleeding that occurs inside the body when a blood vessel is damaged).

Known as Hemafuse, this is a surgical autotransfusion tool that salvages, filters and recycles a patient’s blood from internal bleeding.

It can be used in emergencies and scheduled procedures to transfer blood from where it is pooled internally to a blood bag, where it is immediately re-transfused.

“Autotransfusion presents a great opportunity to provide people in need of blood with their blood for transfusion instead of donor blood. Autotransfusion recycles a person’s blood in cases of significant blood loss.

It can also aid in cases of large internal bleeds where donor blood is scarce,” said Amref Health Africa in Kenya’s Country Director Dr Meshack Ndirangu

He says auto transfused blood has many benefits including reduced risk of infection, safer transfusion in patients with rare blood groups and multiple auto-antibodies, and reducing the demand on the increasingly scarce resource that is donor blood.

The product works like a syringe pulling a patient’s blood through a filter and transferring it to a blood bag to be recycled, critical in addressing the blood shortage, especially in Kenya.  

Limited, vital asset

As a resource, allogenic (donor) blood has never been more in demand than it is today. Allogenic blood is a vital yet limited asset in sub-Saharan Africa due to a number of things including escalating elective surgeries, shortages arising from a fall in supply, lack of national blood transfusion services in some countries, policies, appropriate infrastructure, trained personnel, and financial resources to support the running of a voluntary donor transfusion service. 

For example, Kenya needs about 450,000 units of blood annually. Last year the Kenya National Blood Transfusion service collected 164,275 units, representing 91.3 per cent of the annual target of 180,000 units. The unavailability of blood has led to deaths and many patients. Every 10 minutes about seven Kenyans need blood.

“It is inspiring to see Hemafuse used to save lives. With this partnership, we look forward to enabling thousands of more clinicians to save more lives across the country.

The work we are doing is incredibly important, and we are proud to have such a strong partnership with Amref and Surgipharm to provide access to blood across Kenya,” said Sajju Jain, Sisu Global Health COO.

The best thing about the product is that it doesn’t require any electricity since it is operated manually unlike the current Autotransfusion devices, which rely on electric suction to pull out the pooled blood and a centrifuge (a laboratory device that is used for the separation of fluids, gas or liquid, based on density) to process it before it goes back into the body. It can be reused up to 25 times, thanks to replaceable filters.

Donor withdrawal

“This innovative autotransfusion solution will ensure patients with internal bleeding have a chance of survival and move Kenya closer to addressing the critical blood shortage,” says Jain.

This comes at the time when the US government has withdrawn Sh2 billion funding for blood collection and testing services in Kenya a move expected to make blood shortage situation even worse.

The device will help increase blood access in all hospitals to reduce internal bleeding-related deaths. 

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