Joseph Kalu makes his way on his motorbike past the frustrated motorists blaring their car horns in the heavy traffic in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve center.
He is snaking his way through traffic to a hospital in Ikeja, a district in the gridlocked megaccity with an estimated population of 24 million, and one of the most stressful cities to live in the world.
Kalu is a dispatch rider for LifeBank, a blood and oxygen delivery company in the West African country.
The company currently connects registered blood banks to hospitals in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, and Lagos.
Nigeria needs up to 1.8 million units of blood every year, but the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) collects only about 66,000 units per year, leaving a deficit of more than 1.7 million pints of blood, according to a 2017 report quoting the country’s health ministry.
LifeBank says it is trying to improve the numbers by encouraging Nigerians to donate blood and safely getting required blood to patients who need it urgently.
Kalu’s job involves picking up specified units of blood from blood banks, storing it in his motorbike’s cold chain transport box and delivering to the required hospitals as quickly as he can.
Navigating the busy Lagos highways on a motorbike makes him faster than many other road users but he says the hack for getting to his destination on time is Google maps.
“Even when I know where I am going, I still use Google maps on our app. It lets me figure out the best route to go through, especially when there is traffic,” Kalu said.
Through a partnership with Google Nigeria, LifeBank incorporated Google maps into its mobile application, mapping out locations connecting doctors, blood banks, hospitals, and dispatch riders.
“Every time there is an order, the LifeBank customer service team communicates it to us. We get a notification on the app that shows us the address of where to pick up blood and where to deliver,” Kalu told CNN.
“There’s also the Google map with directions to the address provided,” he added.
Teaming up with the tech giant has enabled the company to cut blood delivery times to just 45 minutes, a journey that previously took up to three hours to complete.
“LifeBank’s system shows just how much magic can happen when universally accessible tools and information meet human creativity, aspirations and resilience,” Mojolaoluwa Aderemi-Makinde, head of Google’s Africa marketing team, said in a statement.
The company is the brainchild of Temie Giwa-Tubosun, a health manager who suffered complications when she was seven months pregnant in 2014.
Giwa-Tubosun was rushed to hospital where doctors carried out an emergency C-section.
“I realized after I had my son that the highest cause of maternal mortality is postpartum hemorrhage, the most important thing you can do when a mum is hemorrhaging is replace the blood she has lost, even if you can’t stop the bleeding,” Giwa-Tubuson told CNN.
Giwa-Tubosun says knowing she could have died in childbirth motivated her to work towards making blood more accessible for others and she founded LifeBank in 2016.
Since then the company has raised thousands of dollars in venture capital, launched across three states in Nigeria, serving in more than 300 hospitals and saved up to 4,000 lives.
‘Surplus and a shortage of blood’
Donated blood has about six weeks before it becomes too old for transfusion, according to a 2017 study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
A lot of the time, the blood expires before it is used because doctors find it challenging to get the type of blood they need says Giwa-Tubosun.
She found that there was a communication lag as doctors struggled to get blood while blood banks were discarding it after the six-week expiration period.
“One of the insights I got was the existence of a surplus and a shortage of blood. We have people on the supply side discarding expired blood and on the demand side dying because the blood is not available. I thought the solution was to help both sides pass information to each other,” she said.
With Lifebank, Giwa-Tubosun was able to connect blood banks with hospitals and their patients.
Her team gathers inventory data from about 52 blood banks across Lagos and responds to requests from hospitals based on the data provided by the banks.
“Hospitals can find out what blood type and how many units are available by calling our 24-hour call center,” she explained.