Blood day marked on US bomb blast site

By Henry Neondo

The US embassy bomb blast site in Nairobi became the centre for marking this year's World Blood Donor Day in Kenya with thousands of Nairobi residents, with memories of what happened on the August 8th 1998 still fresh in their minds turning up.

Marking the World Health Organisation's anniversary to celebrate the blood donors worldwide, the US embassy bombing site was quite telling.

Then 250 people fell victim when suspected Al-Quaeda terrorists hit the embassy exposing the Kenya disaster management for all the weaknesses inherent in it.

According to Dr Jane Mwangi of CDC, thousands of people turned up for blood donations when the appeals were sent out by the government through FM and national radio stations, overwhelming needles and tents for blood donations that majority had to be turned back.

In response, the USAID and the Centre for Disease Control came to Kenya's aid and have since helped set up six regional blood banks, helped develop a national blood transfusion policy, making Kenya one of the 40 African countries to have developed such a policy.

According to Kenya's ministry of health, there is one person in need of blood transfusion every ten minutes.

In Kenya as elsewhere in most of developing countries, however, preventable deaths still occur due to inadequate supply of safe blood and blood products.

Most of this burden falls on women and children as a consequence of pregnancy-related complications, malnutrition, malaria and other infectious diseases.

Trauma, including road traffic accidents (with Kenya recording one of the highest numbers in the world), and injuries due to armed conflicts increase the demand for blood.

But WHO warns that despite its vital role in saving life, blood transfusion may expose the recipient to a number of adverse effects which can be life-threatening.

These include the transmission of infections such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and hepatitis C which are of immense public health importance due to their high prevalence in the African Region.

The blood transfusion in Kenya faces a number of challenges including fear of being told their HIV sero status, cultural/ religious fears and beliefs.

But this has also been largely contributed by the age old practice of reliance on relatives and replacement donors over the years.

As a result, the African Region in 2001 adopted the Blood Safety Strategy aimed to assist countries to set up effective systems of recruitment of low-risk blood donors.

One target was to have at least 80 per cent of blood donations in member states be voluntary and unpaid by the end of 2012.

In Kenya, blood collection by voluntary unpaid donations through well-organized donor recruitment systems spearheaded by the Red Crossa and the Blood Link has been shown to be safer, more effective and more efficient than hospital-based family or replacement donations.

Yet only about 120, 000 units of blood collected last year when the needed amount is 200, 000 units, the blood transfusion in Kenya faces hurdles . According to the ministry, it costs Sh 3000 (about USD 4) to transfuse a pint of safe blood to a patient.

Globally, in 2001, the WHO Global Database on Blood Safety showed that only 33 per cent of the blood collected was from low- and medium-income countries where 82 per cent of the world’s population lives.

Also, 95 per cent of blood donations in high-income countries are voluntary and unpaid, compared to only 25 per cent in low-income countries.

The same picture is reflected in blood safety data in the African Region where most of the countries still collect more than 50 per cent of donations from family or replacement donors.

Only 10 out of the 46 countries collect all blood from voluntary unpaid donors. In countries with well-organized blood donor systems, such as Cote d’Ivoire, South Africa and Zimbabwe, the HIV prevalence among blood donors has been shown to be very low, less than 1 per cent, compared to that of the general population which ranges from 5 per cent to 35 per cent.

The challenges to safe and accessible blood include the identification, recruitment and retention of voluntary donors; proper screening of blood for all major transfusion transmissible infections; implementation of quality management systems in blood transfusion services; and ensuring the proper clinical use of blood.

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