Kenya requires between 500,000 to one million units of blood a year, yet collects less than a quarter of that volume.
Amid such an acute shortage, cartels engaged in illegal sale of blood have continued to make a kill.
The illegal blood business is blamed for shortage with Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe last year in March accusing cartels at the ministry of draining Kenyan blood banks.
This is after reports revealed that blood donated by Kenyans was being sold abroad, mostly in neighbouring Somalia by a cartel comprising officers from the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service (KNBTS).
And now KNBTS, which is mandated to ensure the provision of adequate safe blood, is in the process of rolling out a new system aimed at sealing loopholes exploited by cartels to siphon donated blood from Kenya’s blood banks.
Dr Nduku Kilonzo, KNBTS boss, explains that the three-phase approach will leverage on technology to account for every pint of blood donated in the country.
The first phase of the vein-to-vein system, which is already being implemented, involves a web-based plan used to track how much blood is collected daily vis-à-vis used from the collection.
“We have an internal web-based system where we are tracking how much blood is collected daily and how much is used,” she explains.
The second phase, she says, will involve having the web-based system escalated to all facilities collecting blood in the country.
KNBTS’ mandate is to collect, test, process and distribute blood and blood products to all transfusing hospitals in Kenya.
Currently, Kenya has at least 31 blood collection centres spread across the 47 counties with six Regional Blood Transfusion Centres (RBTCs) in Nairobi, Embu, Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisumu and Mombasa.
In addition, there are 25 satellite centres in Machakos, Kisii, Voi, Meru, Naivasha, Kakamega, Kericho, Nyeri, Garissa, Malindi, Thika, Lodwar, Narok, Migori, Nandi, Kitui, Bungoma, Kapenguria, Bomet, Homa Bay, Nandi and Kitale.
The third phase will involve deployment of a complete system that includes tracking blood bags using a commodity tracker.
This will be made possible by giving each blood bag a smart identification number which will enable the tracking from the issuing centre to the requisitioning health facility, all along giving real-time reports.
“This means that once blood is taken from one vein and put in a bag, that bag can be traced through technology by knowing where it was issued and which patient it was given to,” says the former National AIDS Control Council executive director.
Dr Kilonzo says they are looking at having the complete system up and running in six months.
“We are looking at five to six months to get it up and running because the first phase is already done,” she notes.
Kenya’s blood donation is way below the World Health Organisation guidelines for the proportion of donors relative to the total population.
KNBTS has been struggling to meet the rising needs for blood by the more than 47.6 million Kenyans. This as units of blood donated and stored by the government agency fell to a three-year low of 155,600 pints in the year ending June 2019 against the demand of over one million units.
The fall was from 160,000 units in the year to June 2018 and 158,378 units in the preceding period, pointing to the growing shortage of the essential product.
And according to the agency, every 10 minutes, seven Kenyans need blood and are at risk of dying if it is not available, translating to 1,008 people asking for blood daily but only 18 percent of the demand can be met.
Kenya has only about 561 transfusing facilities split between government, faith-based and private facilities, all which receive blood from the KNBTS.
However, Dr Kilonzo states that progress has been made in increasing the availability of blood in the country with collection rising three times between January and March to hit 63,000 units compared to a similar period last year.
Nonetheless, she observes more blood donation points are needed as KNBTS works towards progressively increasing collections.
“We are making progress in revamping of availability of blood in the country. In the two last quarters covering October to December and January to March, an increase of 200 percent in blood collection has been recorded. We are also looking at having 30 additional blood collection points in the next one year,” points out Dr Kilonzo.
Blood collection was hit by the onset of Covid-19 with only 250 units being collected daily down from the normal 450 units a day pre-Covid-19. Withdrawal of donor funding also slowed down collection.
Kenya requires a minimum of at least 1,500 units daily, and ideally 3,000 units per day to be stable.
Dr Kilonzo is banking on the launch of a first-of-its-kind SmartBank blood collection point in Nairobi’s Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital to serve the facility’s 2.1 million population catchment area.
It is the second public blood collection facility in Kenya apart from the Blood Transfusion Unit at Kenyatta National Hospital.
The state-of-the-art blood donation centre leverages on the use of next generation technology including block chain technology and artificial intelligence to improve blood collection, banking and last mile delivery to health care facilities.
This is through an App which allows for donor scheduling, where a donor inputs their information, including the time and place they want to donate, allowing the facility to space out visits to donate, eliminating the need for donor’s to wait which could result in apathy and reduction in numbers of repeat donors.
In 2018, according to KNBTS, about 77 percent of those who donated blood were first-time donors while only 23 percent were repeat donors.
Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) Director General Mohamed Badi has also given KNBTS the go ahead to set up another blood collection centre at Green Park terminus, with the centre set to be operational by August this year.
The NMS boss further said they are further open to sparing a space at a soon-to-be commissioned Fig Tree bus terminus for setting up of a similar blood collection centre. This is after Dr Kilonzo requested for three more areas in Nairobi to set up blood collection points.
Nairobi requires an estimated 50,000 units of blood to cater for arising medical needs among residents residing in the city, which is hardly met.