Innovator Spotlight: Damu Sasa

An interview with Damu Sasa Co-Founder, Aaron Ogunde

Innovator Sportlight Damu Sasa VF 1

What is your innovation?

Damu Sasa is a startup that facilitates timely access of safe blood products to needy patients. While the need for blood is universal, access for all who need it is not. Blood product availability is still a perennial concern in many African states. In Kenya, we need between 500,000 to a million units every year in order to meet our transfusion needs. Last year, the country collected about 272,000 units, according to the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service (KNBTS). While this was a major improvement from 2020, it is still not enough. This shortage leaves patients in need of transfusion at great risk of losing their lives. This is especially mothers and children, as they account for close to 60% of all transfusion requirements in Kenya.

Damu Sasa uses digital technology to help resolve this health challenge through our cloud-based vein-to-vein (end-to-end) blood services information management platform. The platform provides information that allows stakeholders, especially frontline healthcare workers (FLHWs), to effectively collaborate in order to save patients' lives. This aids in real-time blood products sourcing, blood donor relationship management, blood product screening, inventory management, transfusion management, haemovigilance reporting, and e-learning.

Damu Sasa

Through such activities, Damu Sasa is able to match altruistic potential blood donors to opportunities where they can donate blood. In addition, Damu Sasa also helps prevent wastage through blood unit expiries by providing fair advance warning to relevant FLHWs. Further, using information from the system, FLHWs can also distribute blood products from areas of high-supply and low-demand to those of high-demand and low-supply. This enables equitable access to blood products in the blood services ecosystem.

Damu Sasa was incubated at the Ministry of ICT, under the Presidential Digital Talent Programme (PDTP) before being piloted for a period of two years at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) in 2017, where it grew in both mission and vision. This was as result of the conscious feedback from the users: doctors, nurses, and laboratory teams.

What progress have you recently made that you are celebrating?

Since inception, Damu Sasa has helped save tens of thousands of patients’ lives and continues to do so. Since January 2021 to date, we have helped serve over 30,000 patients, and matched over 35,000 blood donors to voluntary blood donation opportunities. We have also helped save over 2,500 units from wastage through expiry, thereby preserving their potential to save lives.

Damu Sasa has also been instrumental in enabling donor activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through our platform, donors were able to book solo blood donation appointments through our mobile apps, thereby helping them adhere to the social distancing requirements.
Further, Damu Sasa is now supporting over 160 hospitals in 36 out of 47 counties in Kenya. This is a great leap from 132 hospitals back in 2021. We look forward to further growing this number in 2022.

What are your current primary challenges?

In part, the lack of available blood products is occasioned by a weak blood donation culture in the country, owing to blood donor apathy. While a lot has been done, both by Damu Sasa and other stakeholders, in combating the apathy, we realize there is still more to do in order to even dent the apathy.

As Damu Sasa, this means that we need to do more research in understanding the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of potential blood donors in order to innovate further with a view of bringing them into the regular and voluntary blood donation fold.

Further, as with most startups, there are resource constraints which sometimes threaten to delay the achievement of our objectives.

What is something that you have learned along the way that might help other innovators?

Remember to document all processes and procedures of the startup. It is very common with innovators that most of this information only exists in their heads. This then makes it very difficult to receive help from collaborators who have to be taken on a ‘memory-based’ induction programme, which is sometimes prone to scantiness due to normal forgetfulness.

Last but not least, teamwork is essential for both the survival and growth of a startup. Ideally, there should be no bosses in a startup. It should only be a matter of leadership. This way, even divergent views that would otherwise never be heard can now be accommodated.

How has Villgro impacted your growth?

Villgro Africa have been quite instrumental to Damu Sasa. This is especially through expert-level consultancy that has seen Damu Sasa both revise its sustainability model and rejuvenate its existence towards attaining its core objectives.

Further, still through Villgro, Damu Sasa landed various funding opportunities that among other things, helped with boosting our COVID-19 capabilities, which ended up helping to keep blood donations going despite the pandemic. We look forward to a continued partnership with Villgro Africa.