Research findings show that Iron levels of blood donors in Uganda are low

Makerere University researchers have released research findings showing that some blood donors in Uganda have low iron levels, low iron stores are common in blood donors, and that the donors who are deferred for low blood levels have limited insight into their situation. The findings were presented at a research dissemination workshop held on the 15th November 2022 at Makerere University College of Health Sciences.

In his remarks, Dr. Aggrey Dhabangi, Principal Investigator (PI) of the study explained that lack of iron may result in anaemia, which in turn makes blood donors ineligible to donate. ‘Other complications arising from low iron include, fatigue, low energy, and depression’, he added.  

Statistics show that Uganda collects about 300,000 blood donations per year which is below the WHO recommended target of one donation per 100 population per year. As such, more donations are needed to increase blood supply. However, 10% of potential donors are turned away (deferred), 25% of these are due to low blood levels (anaemia); these missed donations may further exacerbate blood shortages in the country. Thresholds for eligibility to donate are 12.5g/dL and 13.5 g/dL for women and men respectively.

A total of 500 donors were involved in the cross-sectional study conducted within the central region blood collection sites of the Uganda Blood Transfusion Services (UBTS). The key findings of the study included:

  • The results showed that, of all potential donors screened to donate, 20.6 % had low iron stores. Among donors with blood levels acceptable to donate, 11.5% had low iron stores, while among those already turned away from donating for low blood levels, 61.5% also had had low iron.
  • The prevalence of low iron stores was higher among females (33.0%) compared to males (2.5%), but even higher among younger females i.e., 24 years and below (35.4%).
  • Further analysis revealed that, NOT eating an “iron-rich” diet was a major factor linked to low stores among blood donors.
  • Interviews with donors turned away from donating for low blood levels revealed that many did not receive sufficient explanations as to why they were turned away, and what they were told was sometimes confusing to them.
  • Although the majority were surprised to be found with low blood levels and seemed frustrated for being turned away; deferral for low blood levels was generally poorly understood. Some interpreted it to mean, they had just ‘enough blood for themselves, but not enough to donate’. Others took the issue very lightly, yet their iron measurements have shown that 61.5% of these individuals besides being low on blood, they also had low iron.

 

The researchers gave the following recommendations:

  • Dietary (Iron-rich diet): Action – The population should be encouraged to adopt healthy eating lifestyle/diet which is iron-rich. Foods like leafy greens (bbugga, dodo, nakati), liver, beef, beans among others should be included in diets.
  • Behavioural change communication on nutrition should be instituted to get the populations to change their diets and eating habits.
  • Consider Iron supplements for the population to replete iron stores. The UBTS/Ministry of Health can offer iron pills to the affected donors. In the past this was done.
  • Identify donors at risk of Iron Deficiency through screening to identify affected persons early enough for interventions.

•  Improved communication is necessary for better handling of blood donors; the capacity of UBTS staff should be built; produce IEC materials for deferred donors: anaemia treatment, and prevention

Referral – to physicians for work-up and further management of anaemia

This study was made possible through collaboration between Makerere University College of Health Sciences and Uganda Blood Transfusion Services. Funding support was provided by the Government of the Republic of Uganda, through the Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (MakRIF) – Round 3, financial year 2021/22.

*Research Team: Dr. Aggrey Dhabangi (Principal Investigator (PI) and Co-PIs Dr. Godfrey Siu, Dr. Ronald Ssenyonga, Dr. Susan Acan, Mrs. Dorothy Kyeyune, and Dr. Imelda Bates