Blood shortage is a critical issue around the world. During festive seasons like Ramadan, blood shortages are at their worst, as donors are busy with friends and family and make fewer donations. Morocco has found a solution to the problem. Since 2013, Morocco has met all of its blood needs during Ramadan, thanks to a national scale blood donation program in mosques. It’s a world first.
On June 14 every year, countries around the world celebrate World Blood Donor Day, thanking donors around the world and raising awareness of the global need for regular blood donations.
While blood transfusions save millions of lives every day, hospitals still face shortages of blood and many patients suffer and die because timely blood is not available.
Blood shortages are especially worse around the world over the festive periods of the year, where holiday schedules keep people busy with family and friends and away from blood donation centers.
Christmas and New Years are critical blood shortage periods in Western countries. For Muslim countries, the Eid celebrations, and the month-long celebration of Ramadan put significant pressure on blood supplies.
Morocco has found a solution. Since 2013 the country has met all of its blood needs during the month of Ramadan, thanks to a national scale blood donation program in mosques.
Blood donations in mosques is not a new concept, and many mosques in Morocco and overseas set up ad-hoc blood collection days.
However, the national-scale Ramadan blood collection program, developed by the Moroccan National Blood Transfusion and Hematology Center (CNTSH), is a world first and its success is inspiring other countries to set up similar initiatives.
Dr Najia El Amraoui, the Head of Communications at the CNTSH, the national body that coordinates all transfusions across Morocco, is behind the project and she has been following its progress since 2013.
Blood shortages during Ramadan
“Before 2013, Morocco was experiencing severe blood shortages during the month of Ramadan because we couldn’t find enough donors,” El Amraoui told Morocco World News.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise until sunset, when they break their fast with the “iftar” meal. In the evenings, many go to the mosque for the usual ‘Icha evening prayer, and the special Ramadan Taraweeh prayer, which can last well into the night.
“We couldn’t collect in the day because people were fasting, so instead we would try collect after iftar,” El Amraoui explained. It is important for the donors to have eaten before they donate so that they can maintain their blood sugar levels throughout the process.
“But in the evenings [after the iftar meal] it’s hard for people to come into the blood center. After iftar, people prefer to go to the mosques to pray. So this when we decided that we would go to them.”
In 2013, CNTSH set up the first national scale Ramadan blood donation program, sending medical teams to mosques across the country every night to collect blood from people attending the evening prayer.
The program is in addition to the blood donations that CNTSH coordinates all year around at donation centers across the country, and on an ad-hoc basis in mosques, for instance after the Friday prayer.
Bigger mosques, more donors
The program was launched in collaboration with the Mohammed VI Foundation for the Promotion of Social Work by Religious Officials. The Foundation, which works under the Ministry for Islamic Affairs, identifies mosques that are suitable for the program.
“We choose the bigger mosques, the ones that receive many people. The Foundation has lists showing where people go to pray,” El Amraoui explained.
The Foundation also works with the mosques’ religious leaders, Imams, on how to raise awareness about the program. Imams read out special requests during prayer time, explaining the need for blood and asking people to make a donation.
After praying, people can then approach the CNTSH team and sign up to make a donation.
Every night, CNTSH sends out two medical teams to each chosen mosque, one to work with the women, and one to work with the men, who each pray in different parts of the mosque.
The program is so successful that CNTSH often has more donors than the teams can manage.
“Our team can’t take blood from all the donors. The time period between when we start and suhoor [the sunrise prayer] is limited. We start the collection around 9.30pm and our team stays until 4.00am or 5.00am. Sometimes there are too many donors.”
The goal is for each team to get 120 donations per mosque, per night, noting the total objective for Ramadan is to get 13 000 donations from the mosques, and 10 000 donations from our other units, El Amraoui explains. This amount covers all blood needs during Ramadan.
“Our biggest donation drive ever was 347 donations from the one mosque over the duration of 4 or 5 hours,” she proudly adds.
The teams are committed to the project, and work long hours overnight throughout the month to reach the donation goals.
The team members, who usually work during the day for the center, do get advantages like bonuses and one-day-on one-day-off rosters. However, El Amraoui recognizes that they are still working at times where they could otherwise be celebrating Ramadan with their families and friends.
“The work the team does is exceptional. We are very grateful to the staff because they are making a big effort,” El Amraoui says.
The CNTSH makes sure to thank all those involved. At ceremonies after Ramadan, they award trophies and certificates to all the participating mosques, to foster a sense of group achievement and encourage participation in the program.
“Every mosque gets a personal thank-you letter from the center, and we also thank the Foundation and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs for their help.”
A world first
El Amraoui is proud of the mosque donation program. “We are the first country to have launched a national scale program like this,” she notes.
Recognizing its success, France and Belgium have set up similar initiatives. El Amraoui is preparing for an upcoming conference at the French Blood Foundation, where she will present the project and share insights into its operations.
“It is a very successful project, and the figures are excellent” she says, smiling.
And it’s not just about the figures. The program also promotes ethical and safe blood donation as 100% of the donations made in the mosques are voluntary.
While illegal in Morocco, in many countries across the world including the United States, people can sell their blood and plasma. Remuneration for blood donation raises serious ethical and health issues.
Studies have also shown that paid donors are more likely to lead lifestyles that expose them to the risk of HIV and other infections that could be transmitted through their blood, notes the World Health Organization (WHO). The issue is, a paid donor is less likely to reveal reasons for which they might not be suitable to donate blood, as they are motivated to protect their income stream.
This is why global organizations like the WHO strongly advocate for global blood donation to be on a 100% voluntary basis. Morocco’s mosque donation program fits in perfectly with this goal.
El Amraoui hopes that in future the program will grow. Simply put, more donations, more blood, more lives saved.
“We want to increase the size of the teams and the number of mobile units that we can set up near mosques,” she says. CNTSH has the expertise, but funding is the issue. The center runs on state funding throughout the year, but does not get any extra money for the Ramadan project, so it does all the work during the month within its existing means.
Right now though, El Amraoui just wants to share the idea of the project with the rest of the world, and she hopes to see other countries set up similar initiatives.
It’s about the patients really, she says. “We just want to share our experience. It’s our legacy.”