The provision of a secure and safe blood supply has taken on new importance in sub-Saharan Africa with the onset of the AIDS epidemic. Blood transfusion services capable of providing safe blood are not cheap, however, and there has been some debate on the desirability and sustainability of different financing mechanisms for blood transfusion services. This paper examines patterns of financing blood transfusion in three countries--Côte d'Ivoire, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It goes on to consider the conceptual options for financing safe blood, and to examine in detail the possible role of user fees for blood transfusion in Africa, developing a simple model of their likely burden to patients based on data from Côte d'Ivoire. The model indicates that, at best, there can only be a limited role for user fees in the financing of safe blood transfusion services, due mainly to the relatively high cost of producing a unit of safe blood. Charging individuals for the blood they receive is likely to be administratively complex and costly, could realistically recover only a fraction of the production costs involved, and is further complicated by the fact that the main recipients of blood transfusion in sub-Saharan Africa are children and pregnant women. If cost-recovery for safe blood is to be attempted, the most viable option appears to be that of charging a collective fee, levied upon all inpatients, not just on those who receive blood. Such a mechanism is not without problems, not least in its failure to offer incentives for more appropriate blood use, and it is still likely to recover only a portion of the costs of producing safe blood. Whether or not cost-recovery is instituted, there will remain an important role for public funding of blood transfusion services, and, by implication, an important role for foreign donor support.