Not a single hospital in the country has enough blood, thanks to lack of funds for reagents and storage of blood, with cartels keen to control supply.
Official figures from the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service (KNBTS) reveal that blood amounting to 1,000 units — a whopping third of the total collected from January to March — was thrown out because it expired before it was tested. Most of this was from Kisii County.
The KNBTS also reveals that 18 counties lack transfusion centres.
Kenya needs about one million units of blood annually but last year, only 164,275 units were collected, representing a paltry 16 per cent.
This week, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe blamed poor transition from the United States President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) on national government funding for the current crisis.
“We’re filling the gap as the Kenya government. We have support from the World Bank, which is trying to help as we transition to a self-funding mechanism,” the CS said.
He added: “We have to face this issue head-on because we cannot be relying on donors for our blood. We have to fund it as a government and as Kenyans”.
Mr Kagwe also said cartels have thrived in the blood “industry”, making it difficult to have a sustainable supply, a matter that he has since taken up with the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.
“We have asked the DCI to intervene in the selling of blood outside the borders of this country. Investigations are going on and we expect arrests to be made,” he said.
The Health Ministry is in charge of blood supply, through KNBTS, and has for the past 15 years relied on Pepfar, which supported blood collection, testing and policy issues. Pepfar cut funding last year, leaving the ministry stranded.
By supporting Kenya, Pepfar wanted to ensure quality assurance in HIV programmes. KNBTS records show that blood services used to be done in hospitals, which made it difficult to ensure the transfused blood was “clean”.
From 2004 to last year, Pepfar disbursed Sh7.3 billion, which catered for the centralised services including paying for buildings, vehicles, staff, collection and screening of blood for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis C, information systems and policy formulation.
Lack of funds also led to the loss of jobs. There are only 75 medical laboratory technicians and nurses working in the six regional blood service centres in the country.
Transfusion service figures indicate that there are only two drivers attached to it.
None of the centres has working air conditioning systems even though blood needs to be stored at certain temperatures.
To breathe life into KNBTS, the Ministry of Health says blood transfusion services in the country will now be run by a semi-autonomous government agency (Saga).
CS Kagwe said the proposed “Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service (KNBTS) Act” establishes KNBTS as a State entity with the sole responsibility of regulating and coordinating blood transfusion services in Kenya.
Mr Kagwe said that as a Saga, KNBTS would have a centrally coordinated service with a specific mandate, structure and governance mechanisms to carry out the services in conjunction with county governments.
“We want the KNBTS to work as a stand-alone authority because this is a critical matter,” he said.
The CS said that a budgetary allocation would be made to fund the services.
National Assembly’s Health Committee chairman Mohamed Abdi Kuti said that all counties would have blood transfusion services.
“The counties have seen the gap and some have upgraded their laboratories but, going forward, all counties will be satellites for the national blood transfusion services and will be able to test and collect blood,” he said.
A large proportion of blood supplies is used in the management of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, as well as treating severe childhood anaemia.
The World Health Organisation maintains that providing safe and adequate supplies of blood and blood products should be an integral part of every country’s efforts to improve maternal health.