Algorithmic blood donations in Ukraine

On paper, solves many of the inefficiencies of blood donorship in Ukraine. It connects people willing to donate with those in need thanks to a matching algorithm. But implementation proves difficult, and the war is not the only reason for it.


24 October 2023

#health #ukraine

"A red droplet on a yellow and blue background" / Adobe Firefly is a Ukrainian system for recruiting and managing blood donors, created by a local non-profit organization. It connects recipients with the donors as well. People willing to donate their blood can register on the website and track donorship opportunities in Ukraine. The prospective recipients can fill out a request form on the website to get in touch with the blood transfusion services. 

The system’s founders, Oleksandr Krakovetskyi and Iryna Slavinska, point out that similar solutions have been developed by the Red Cross worldwide but haven't been implemented by the Ukrainian Red Cross. Ukraine’s equivalent of Doctolib, the Helsi platform, has health data on 23 million Ukrainians but does not focus on blood donations. The system provides users with the details of blood requests and a knowledge base with information related to blood donorship. not only recruits and guides donors but also manages some of the medical centers’ equipment. They also cooperate in organizing events with local companies. The matching algorithms use data on the donors' and recipients' location, their blood types, and specifics such as the type of donation needed (erythrocytes, thrombocytes, plasma, etc.) or the number of donors needed to fulfill a request. No Machine Learning is involved yet because of lacking training data, as Krakovetskyi and Slavinska say.

Blood centers

Ukraine already has an infrastructure in place to manage blood donations. Blood centers collect, test, store, and distribute blood. has recently asked for blood centers to register on their platform, in vain. Some of them already have their own recruitment systems for donors, but registering on would give them access to a larger pool. Although boasts over 135,000 registered donors, none of the blood centers partnered with the initiative. 

I asked seven blood centers why they did not. They either said that their systems would operate just fine and wouldn't require an external solution (though some mentioned using Helsi), or they claimed not to know about’s features. 

Since it is illegal to share data regarding blood donorship in Ukraine during wartime, I could not further investigate how well their systems work. However, blood centers are obliged to share their blood supply volumes on a national platform. As the team works with the government, it has access to this database. Based on this insight, many blood centers are believed to face shortages.

One blood center, for which the supply is rated “critical” on the national platform, said that they “see no need for any other recruitment system.” Iryna Slavinska suspects that this center refuses to cooperate with her project out of personal spite (she helped uncover a corruption scheme there). She is convinced that corruption is striving around blood donorship and that some centers siphon off government money using fake documentation. For this reason some of the centers were scared of being caught, she muses. 

Blood donation on social media

Some Ukrainians resort to social media (mostly Facebook) to make their need public because there is no national service for blood donorship. automatically searches and parses data from such posts and adds it to their database.

A Facebook post by a resident of Kherson (automatically translated from Ukrainian)

Blood centers weren't equipped to perform such a monitoring since they only act upon orders from the government and wait for donors when dealing with a low blood supply, Slavinska says.

The war makes it difficult to reform the donorship system. A blood center’s medical director in Vinnytsia refused to talk to me on the phone since she was afraid of eavesdropping by Russian agents. She recalled the bombing of the blood center in Kharkiv Oblast in August 2023. Specialists there are believed to still be working in bomb shelters, she said. A Kyiv blood center's director also refused to talk on the phone about the issue.

The fear of data breaches which would put donor data or any other potentially useful intel into the hands of Russian agents, along with a lack of tech savviness and a fear of external scrutiny, probably explains why blood centers are hesitant to partner up with new organizations – even if their algorithms could help.

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