Nigeria has an extremely high maternal mortality rate, with 814 deaths per 100,000 live births, 60 per cent of which are caused by postpartum haemorrhage. This is partly the result of a major blood shortage.
“Nigeria’s blood shortage problem has severe consequences for not just pregnant women but also children suffering from malaria complications, accident victims who bleed out from trauma injuries, patients going through sickle cell crises, and others,” says Temie Giwa-Tubosun.
Riding to the rescue is Lagos-based tech startup LifeBank, founded by Giwa-Tubosun, who comes from an international development background, in 2016.
After dabbling with the idea of starting a non-profit to encourage people to donate blood, she decided to launch a social impact business to address the issues of insufficient supply and poor logistics, with the goal of increasing access to blood and ultimately reducing the number of Nigerian women who die from birth complications.
The result was LifeBank, an online platform that connects hospitals with blood banks, and blood banks with donors. It uses a mobile app to create a community of voluntary blood donors, as well as a discovery platform on which hospitals can request the blood they need. LifeBank delivers requested blood in less than 45 minutes, in a WHO Blood Transfusion Safety compliant cold chain, and will soon add other essential medical products, like oxygen, vaccines and rare drugs.
“We believe that no African should die from a shortage of essential medical products at the hospital level, and we are on a mission to solve this using technology,” Giwa-Tubosun said.
“LifeBank uses data and a combination of ubiquitous technology like feature mobile phones and motorcycles, and high technology such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, to help health workers discover essential medical products. We deliver these products to hospitals on time and in the right condition using smart logistics.”
Essentially, LifeBank sits in the middle of the blood market in Nigeria, connecting supply and demand.
“Before LifeBank, due to lack of information about blood availability, hospitals often went on time-wasting, frustrating searches for blood that can have dire consequences for the patient,” said Giwa-Tubosun.
“If found, the blood is often transported without a cold chain, leaving it vulnerable to bacteria proliferation which can result in serious health complications when transfused. LifeBank is the safest, quickest and cheapest way to get blood in Lagos, Nigeria because of our multipronged approach to solving the blood shortage issue.”
The startup has obtained some heavyweight supporters. It was incubated at Co-Creation Hub (CcHub) in 2016, raising pre-seed funding, and has subsequently raised a funding round led by EchoVC Partners. It took part in Merck’s Lagos-based satellite accelerator this year, and was recently selected as part of the 2018 MIT Solver Class, which came with grant funding and access to other resources.
Impact-wise, it has been hugely successful. Since inception, LifeBank has moved almost 11,000 products, and worked with over 400 hospitals to save over 2,100 lives. More than 6,300 people are registered as voluntary blood donors on its platform, over 20 per cent of whom have donated blood in the past two years.
The startup’s revenue model is simple, charging a sliding scale logistics fee that averages at around US$8 per unit of product moved.
“We use a sliding scale because we want to make our services accessible to hospitals that serve people of different income levels. A higher logistics fee includes add-on services like temperature strips and Bluetooth Padlock for an additional layer of security higher-end hospitals require,” said Giwa-Tubosun.
Building such as user base and earning revenues have not been without challenges, but LifeBank is growing and has expansion plans. Giwa-Tubosun said a major difficulty was convincing blood bank partners to come on board.
“Their initial presumption was that we were potential competition, with our sights set on taking their market. However, once we demonstrated that LifeBank could aid their businesses by helping prevent wastage from unsold inventory, and providing access to a larger pool of customers, they soon signed up to be our partners. We currently work with 65 blood banks across Lagos state,” she said.
“We will begin operations in Abuja before the end of this year. We also plan to expand operations to another African country by the end of 2019.”