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Opening of Fort Portal Regional Blood Bank

Ambassador's Remarks - Monday, April 8, 2013, 10:00 – 12:00 p.m. - Fort Portal Regional Blood Bank, Fort Portal

-- Honorable Sarah Ndoboli Kataike, Minister of State for Health for General Duties and other Ministry officials;
--Honorable Asaba Ruyonga, Mayor, Fort Portal Municipality;
--Honorable Rwabuhinga Richard, Chairman LC5, Kabarole District;
-- Honorable Alex Ruhinda, Member of Parliament, Fort Portal Municipality;
--Honorable Namuyimba Abdallah, R.D.C. (Resident District Commissioner), Kabarole
-- Bishop Reuben Kisembo;
--Dr. Dorothy Kyeyune, Director of the Uganda Blood Transfusion Services;
--Ladies and Gentlemen;
All protocols observed;

Good morning.

I am delighted to be here today with all of you as we officially open the Fort Portal Regional Blood Bank, a critical new component of the Uganda Blood Transfusion Services’ (“UBTS”) network of vitally needed blood banks that stretches across Uganda. 

Uganda Blood Transfusion Services is the department within the Ministry of Health that has the responsibility for ensuring the availability of safe and adequate supplies of blood for all hospitals and health centers in the country. 

Think about that for a moment.  If you or a family member is in a vehicle accident and desperately need blood, where do you turn?  If a mother delivering her child is at risk from hemorrhaging, what happens if there is no blood for a transfusion?  Or, what if you have a child with anemia due to malaria and that little one needs blood.  And what if you later find that the blood your child received had not been screened or tested and that your child will now live the rest of his or her life fighting the scourge of HIV/AIDs?  How would you feel?  Every one of these scenarios is real and, in countries with unsafe blood supplies, they are undeniable, and frightening, risks. 

But, not here.  Not today.  With the opening of this blood bank the lives of the people of Fort Portal and the neighboring areas supported by the bank just got safer and better.
And I am so very proud to say that the United States worked in close partnership with your government to make that happen.  The United States Government - through the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (or PEPFAR as it is more popularly known) - has joined hands with UBTS and the Ministry of Health to bring this life-saving facility to the people of western Uganda.  THAT, is a task worth doing and worth celebrating, and that is why we are here today.

The UBTS, with assistance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is on a mission.  It is a mission to create a safe, efficient, and sustainable national blood service. One whose foundation rests on a network of healthy volunteer blood donors, who help to meet the needs of Uganda’s health care system. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the most critical points I will make today.  Although the United States Government is proud to be part of this effort, your community needs you -- healthy caring individuals committed to contributing to the greater good of all your neighbors -- in order to be successful.   

For a blood bank like this to be effective, the World Health Organization standard requires that more than 50 percent of the  blood being "banked" comes from voluntary, low-risk, donors willing to contribute for the good of all and willing to come back when and as needed.  These volunteers do not come forward for pay or for personal reward, they help because it is the right thing to do.  Because they know that the day may come when their donation may save the life of their friend, their child, or even themselves.  

Few countries are able to reach that goal of having half its blood donations come from such selfless unpaid volunteers but, with PEPFAR’s support, UBTS has achieved 100% blood collection from a corps of such committed repeat donors.  Remarkably, UBTS has managed to build and sustain a network of healthy donors chosen through a rigorous selection process and supported by a robust education and counseling program.  Equally impressive, however, is that through reliance on this dedicated and healthy donor network, UBTS has reduced the HIV sero-prevalence rate among donors to less than 1 percent.  These are results any team of partners can and should be proud of.  I know that the United States is. 

Some of you may not know that in Uganda partnerships such as this are not unusual for us, given that the U.S. Government is Uganda's single largest donor in the health sector.  Given this dynamic partnership in health, it should be no surprise that we would commit ourselves to supporting this critical effort we celebrate today.  A safe blood supply is a powerful tool for success in virtually all we do in the health sector.  A safe blood supply is critical for fighting HIV, as it can virtually eliminate unintended transmission of HIV caused by transfusions with tainted blood. An adequate and safe blood supply can help reduce maternal mortality, a vital goal of my government and the Government of Uganda, and one that we are advancing in the Fort Portal region through our Saving Mothers Giving Life Initiative. 

We know as well that in regions with improved blood supplies, fatalities due to accidents have declined drastically because blood is available when it is needed.  
Our partnership with UBTS has also resulted in safer medical injection practices that protect not only patients but also the broader community - including health care workers who are routinely exposed to needles.  Our health care workers are the heart and soul of our medical facilities and we need to ensure that they have a safe working environment to carry out their mission. 

Here in Uganda, and around the world, PEPFAR supports the adoption of safe injection policies, purchases safe injection equipment and supplies, and teaches safe disposal practices of used needles and other medical waste.  In addition to promoting these universal precautions, PEPFAR works to reduce demand for unnecessary injections and to promote appropriate use of transfusions.  

The longstanding partnership between UBTS and the U.S. Government through the Centers for Disease Control has made tremendous strides in all of these areas. 

Since 2004, UBTS has received approximately 60 percent of its total budget from the American people through PEPFAR and CDC has used those funds to support the provision of safe blood and blood products to health facilities throughout the country.  Together we have built not only the UBTS headquarters, but we have also constructed five purpose-built regional blood banks in Kampala, Gulu, Mbarara, and Mbale, and now here in Fort Portal.  
Over this same period, through technical assistance and funding from CDC, UBTS has developed a centrally-coordinated national service with a decentralized network made up of these regional blood banks and collection centers. Particularly striking is the fact that over these years UBTS’s annual blood collections have increased by 95.4 percent!   I know that, as a result, there are citizens of this country who are alive because an adequate and safe blood supply exists today in places where there was none a decade ago.

We will continue to work with the Government of Uganda and the Ministry of Health in the coming years to further strengthen the infrastructure of the UBTS and to ensure it becomes a strong, efficient, and self-sustaining institution.  It is, of course, important that this be a Ugandan led effort with national ownership and, ultimately, national resources committed to a sustainable and scalable program able to respond to ever-expanding needs along with Uganda's rapidly growing population. 

As we work towards that goal, we will remain a committed partner, providing continued assistance to strengthen and consolidate UBTS' impressive achievements.  

Challenges of course remain. Infrastructure in other regional blood banks is inadequate and limited matching funds from the Government of Uganda constrain progress.  Nonetheless, we are confident that with the determination and dedication of our partners in the Ministry of Health and at the UBTS - particularly UBTS Director Dr. Dorothy Kyeyune and her competent team - we can overcome these challenges and ensure that safe blood is available to all who need it across Uganda in the years to come.

In closing, I would like to say once more how proud my government is  to be part of this effort.  For me, this partnership is emblematic of our relationship with the people of Uganda.  Our goal, quite simply, is to help you to make your dream of a stronger, more prosperous, democratic Uganda where citizens are able to live productive lives with dignity, a reality. 

For that dream to be realized, a healthy society is a primary requirement and, as we have discussed today, a safe and well-managed blood supply is essential to create that healthy community.  Can we get there?  Absolutely.  But the challenge of doing so is yours. 

The U.S. Government can provide assistance, and the Ministry of Health and UBTS can provide both the leadership and vision needed to achieve and maintain a strong, state-of-the-art national transfusion service - but if average, healthy Ugandans of all ages don't step up to donate blood, this system cannot function. 

Ultimately, health is a personal responsibility.  Just as we all must assume personal responsibility for HIV prevention, for maternal health, or for ensuring are children are immunized, so must we all embrace voluntary blood donation as a personal responsibility and a personal commitment.  I urge you to do so. 

We are proud to stand with you as friends and as partners as you shape your future.  Now let us join together to make that future a healthy one for all this nation's citizens.  I look forward to tackling this challenge together and together I believe that we can succeed.

Good luck and best wishes to all our friends here in Fort Portal.  Thank you very much for giving us the chance to join with you today.