U team tackles blood banking on an international level
When patients in U.S. hospitals and clinics are in need of blood, they can get it. We have a nationwide system to ensure the collection, management, and distribution of blood. We have blood drives to populate our blood banks. And we have trained hematologists. But half a world away, this is not the reality.
In many developing countries, there is no system. If a person needs blood, he or she must find someone who is willing to donate. And even then, it’s not a sure bet that the blood is the right type, or even safe.
Up until eight months ago, Afghanistan was one of these countries. With a nation in need of a better health system, the Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health sought applications to develop a national blood safety and transfusion service. Establishing a safe blood supply is a critical step to building a better health system. After all, doctors cannot perform surgeries if they don’t have blood, and without surgeries, hospitals become ineffective.
U of M team drawn from schools of public health, medicine
The ministry chose Terri Konstenius, Jeffrey McCullough, and William Riley, a team of experts from the SPH and Medical School. Each member plays a vital role. Konstenius, based in the SPH, leads the program and serves as project director. She is responsible for developing curriculum, as well as coordinating, planning, and implementing training programs. She also maintains contacts with the ministry and cultivates relationships between Afghanistan’s government and the U.
McCullough, a world-famous transfusion expert, practices with physicians, teaching them about blood utilization and transfusion. Riley, an associate professor and associate dean in the SPH, is a recognized leader in health care administration and is principal investigator of the project.
“We want to help [Afghanistan] build and strengthen their national blood supply,” says McCullough. “Not only does this include strengthening screening and collection procedures, but it also means improving lab processing systems, recruitment of donors, and blood utilization methods in hospitals.”
The group hosts weeklong training seminars for roughly 60 Afghan physicians, ministry staff, and hospital administrators. Depending on the designated curriculum, other national experts travel overseas with the team.
Team of interdisciplinary experts
“We have a vast interdisciplinary pool of experts to assist us,” says Konstenius. Adds Riley, “Because of their own extensive reputations, Terri and Jeff know top experts, and we bring those people with us to the training sessions so they can share their expertise.”
Eight months into the two-and-a-half year project, the team remains grateful for the opportunity to partner with the Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health.
“We’re really privileged to be able to support the Afghanistan program and improve the safety and availability of their blood supply,” says Konstenius. “Everyone in the training sessions is extremely eager to improve, and that’s really gratifying.”
While most of the instruction has been in Afghanistan, Masoud Rahmani, the national director of the National Blood Safety and Transfusion Service, recently came to the United States for a fellowship. He completed rounds in the U’s acute care units and blood bank. He also met with Congressman Keith Ellison and leaders from the American Red Cross and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While the group has already accomplished a tremendous amount, it is only the beginning. The team will soon hire a Kabulbased employee to help manage the work. And the program will soon expand to other countries.
The CDC recently selected the University of Minnesota as one of three organizations for task orders to work on blood banking in 42 nations around the world.
“This is a great opportunity to become a center of excellence for developing nations,” says Konstenius, “and it’s really special that we’re a part of it.”