Patients in need of blood transfusions in Kisumu County face acute and persistent shortages.
The situation was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has weighed on health systems across the country.
Winnie Atieno, a patient at Kombewa Sub-County Hospital, is affected by the crisis. She needs blood group O- (negative) and depends on well-wishers.
The hospital is running out of blood and the doctors asked the patient’s brother, Bush Nyang, to get a donor.
“I had to go on social media to find potential blood donors. I was given three pints that were compatible with my sister’s blood type,” he said.
Another patient, Appoline Odera, is being treated at the Aga Khan Hospital and needs the O + blood group. Her family and friends used social media to ask for help.
Blood bank collapses
The director of the Aga Khan Hospital, Dr. Patrick Eshiwani said Kisumu has been struggling with acute anemia for the past three years.
“There has been no blood since the blood bank in Kisumu collapsed. Patients depend on blood donations from relatives,” he said.
An official from the regional blood transfusion center announced that the laboratory had run out of reagents.
Reagents are used to detect and identify a wide variety of blood group antibodies. This means that the blood received must be sent to Nairobi to determine the different blood types.
Kisumu Health Executive Boaz Nyunya said blood deficiency is a complex issue.
He pointed out that the regional blood transfusion center relies on donors from schools, colleges and universities.
“We need to mobilize stakeholders from different areas to get more blood donations and develop strategies for the management and storage of blood,” said Prof. Nyunya.
The US president’s gradual withdrawal from the emergency aid plan for AIDS (Pepfar) since 2014 and the government’s failure to fill the resulting loophole have caused a crisis in regional and satellite blood banks.
Funding for the National Blood Transfusion Service of Kenya ended last year.
The scarcity of blood in regional and satellite centers has forced some hospitals to draw their own blood. Since the procedure is complex, the hospitals pass the costs on to the patients.
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The Kisumu Blood Transfusion Center has a capacity of up to 5,000 blood transfusions, but is currently less than 400 units. The reduced funding has also cut the outreach programs.
A major contributor to the problem is the suspension of social gatherings due to restrictions imposed by the Department of Health to limit the transmission of Covid-19.
“When the coronavirus pandemic hit the country, gatherings (were) prohibited. We are working on a guideline according to which individuals donate regularly in compliance with the Covid-19 guidelines, ”said Prof. Nyunya.
Minimum recommended by the WHO
Last year, Kenya collected 164,000 units of blood against the World Health Organization’s minimum recommended amount of one percent of the population (480,000 units).
This is the bare minimum WHO expects Kenya’s population to be, up from a maximum of 960,000 units per year.
On the recommendation of the WHO, the government set up six regional blood banks 20 years ago to streamline the blood collection process.
This resulted in a more structured collection, examination, storage and distribution of blood by the six banks in Nairobi, Embu, Nakuru, Mombasa, Eldoret and Kisumu.
The plan was funded heavily by Pepfar, who hoped the government would intervene if the United States stopped funding.