A previous version of this story was published in 2019, and has been updated to include a newly released documentary film and LifeBank's efforts to combat COVID-19 in Nigeria.
For Temie Giwa-Tubosun, access to mapping information was an important part of solving the blood crisis problem in her native Nigeria. Organising information and making it accessible is at the heart of Google’s mission. By designing a system to connect blood banks to hospitals via Google Maps Platform, LifeBank has been able to decrease delivery time from 24 hours to less than 45 minutes.
A lot of times when someone is bleeding, they have between 20 minutes and 2 hours, so it’s not a problem you can take your time to solve.
In January 2016, Temie, already a leader in child and maternal health in Nigeria, officially launched LifeBank. Her goal was to find the fastest way possible for patients to receive the blood they needed. The genesis for the idea came in 2014, when Temie was pregnant with her son. At the time, she lived in Lagos, but her parents had relocated to the United States. Wanting her mum to be present for the birth, Temie travelled to be with her.
At 30 weeks into her pregnancy, Temie was rushed to the hospital for an emergency C-section. Fortunately, doctors were able to safely deliver her son, Enafie, on Valentine’s Day. 'If I had my son in Lagos, I may have died from postpartum haemorrhage,' Temie realised.
Nigeria has the fourth-highest maternal mortality rate in the world, accounting for 19% of all maternal deaths globally. Postpartum haemorrhage (the loss of too much blood following a birth) is the leading cause of such deaths. The lack of infrastructure to get crucial blood supplies in Nigeria compounds this problem. 'When I realised this, I knew I needed to do this work, and do it fully,' Temie says. She returned to Lagos determined to find a solution.
Donated blood has a shelf life of just six weeks. Often, it expires before it is ever used because doctors are unable to locate the type of blood that they need. Temie realised that this was inherently a logistics problem: 'The doctors who need the blood and the blood banks who are discarding blood needed to somehow find a way to communicate with each other.' She turned to the Google Maps Platform to create an app for these once disconnected entities. By mapping each location involved in blood distribution across Lagos – from hospitals to blood banks to the dispatch drivers – Temie was able to reduce delivery times and save more lives.
In the past, hospitals – or sometimes even patients’ family members – would call individual blood banks to see if they had the needed blood type. Response times became a matter of life or death, and overburdened doctors and distressed family members often lacked the resources necessary to find blood in time.
We’re using Google Maps to build a communication platform between blood banks, hospitals, and patients that didn’t exist before.
To tackle this problem, Temie created and mapped an online blood repository in partnership with 52 blood banks across Lagos. Doctors can now request a blood type and immediately access a map that tracks the journey of the delivery. With LifeBank’s model, blood is typically used within one week of being stored at a bank and wastage is all but eliminated – and supply is finally meeting demand.
Before LifeBank, finding and delivering blood to a patient in Lagos could take several hours and in some cases, several days. LifeBank changed the game, transporting blood in a record-breaking average of 45 minutes from initial request to final delivery. As Temie puts it, 'without a technology like Google Maps, we’d be in the dark.'
I knew donors were always going to be an important part of distribution. If you don’t have supply, what are you going to move?
Like in many countries around the world, mobilising blood donation in Nigeria is a difficult task – but a vital part of the blood supply chain. In order for LifeBank to work, Temie knew that she needed to increase voluntary blood donations. On LifeBank’s donor app, Nigerians can book appointments via a map of local blood banks and learn more about what to expect.
I was also sick once. On the brink of death. I understand what it feels like to step in and [give blood] for people who need it. You’re giving life to someone who needs it.
Oluwaseun Adeolu LifeBank blood donor
By connecting donors to critical resources, LifeBank has registered over 5,000 blood donors. When asked how she was able to mobilise so many volunteers, Temie put it simply: 'You may be surprised [by] the answer you get. It’s most likely not going to be no, particularly if you tell them why it’s so important.'
To date, LifeBank has moved over 22,000 units, served 400-plus hospitals and saved more than 8,000 lives.
Update: Continuing their mission of connecting medical supplies to those in need, Temie and her team are now spearheading efforts in Nigeria to combat the spread of COVID-19. LifeBank is currently providing oxygen to hospitals free of charge to treat COVID-19 patients. In partnership with local organisations, the team has also launched a drive-through/walk-in COVID-19 testing centre in Lagos and Ibadan, with a goal to provide a model of centralised screening across Africa. LifeBank is also working to create a national register of critical medical equipment, finding and repairing respirators, ventilators and ICU beds for local hospitals. To find out more, visit LifeBank.ng.