Blood bank services in the country received a major boost with the introduction of vein-to-vein technology to enhance accountability away from the previously porous manual system.
This comes after high demand for blood from cancer patients and women giving birth through C-Section.
Cancer is the third leading cause of death in Kenya, after infections and heart-related diseases. Cancer patients require platelets to stop bleeding, others miss chemotherapy sessions due to low hemoglobin levels, hence the high demand for blood.
C-Section deliveries, on the other hand, have been rising since introduction of Linda Mama program under National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF).
The Ministry of Health, through the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service, (KNBTS) revealed that the Blood Information Management System will speed up donation and consumption of blood across the country.
Kiprono Chepkok, head partnership and County Support at KNBTS said the technology developed in partnership with the ICT department will win trust among Kenyans in blood donation drives.
“People have been reluctant to donate blood because they lack trust in how blood is handled,” said Chepkok. “With the vein to vein technology, blood shall be monitored from the donor to the person receiving it.”
With the technology, a giver is registered at a donation site and if found fit after a suitability interview, a batch number is attached to the donated blood which is later taken through screening.
After screening, a signal is sent to the management system revealing that it is ready to be given out to a patient. It is from this system that blood transfusion facilities, including hospitals, maternity units and clinics will make their blood requisition.
Chepkok explained that “during requisition, the transfusion centre will issue the blood attached with the batch number as a reference. The blood will also be monitored during transfusion to a patient, including any form of reaction.”
After the transfusion, the system will send a gratitude message to the donor for saving a life.
“With the technology, a donor will be able to know who has been transfused with his blood and at which hospital,” said Chepkok.
Piloting of the technology was done at Mama Lucy and Chogoria Mission hospitals in Nairobi and Tharaka Nithi Counties respectively.
Though there is no specific data on the number of cancer patients in need of transfusion, according to KNBTS, majority of patients with cancer of the cervix, which kills at least nine women in the country every day, require transfusion as a result of bleeding. The patients are transfused with platelets to stop bleeding.
“Most cancer patients require platelets to stop bleeding. Some miss chemotherapy due to low haemoglobin (Hb) levels,” he said.
Annual cases of cancer in Kenya increased from 37,000 to 47,887 new cases from 2012 to 2018 while annual cancer mortality rose almost 16 per cent, from 28,500 to 32,987 cancer-related deaths over the same period.
C-Sections since the introduction of Linda Mama under National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) increased from 9.5 per cent in 2015 to 14.9 per cent in 2019, according to Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHIS) 2015/16.
“Before a woman is wheeled to the theatre for C-Section, there must be standby blood. This is why we are asking Kenyans to donate blood,” said Chepkok. “If every Kenyan donates blood on their birthday, we are going to have at least two million units annually.”
Chepkok reckons that such an amount will be adequate and “surgeries will never be postponed. People doing their dialysis will always get treatment, and so will people with bleeding disorders among others who depend on blood for healthcare.”
Further, the government has installed apheresis machines, further boosting blood drive services. As a result, donors do not have to donate whole blood as was the case in the past.
The machine gives a donor an opportunity to select the type of blood component they wish to donate, be it plasma, frozen plasma, platelets and red blood cells.
There are currently four apheresis machines in Kenya. They were installed in Mombasa, Nakuru, Nairobi and Eldoret.
“With the apheresis machines, we are extracting fresh platelets, which are of high quality,” he said.
Studies have shown that platelets extracted using apheresis machines are at least five times better in terms of quality, compared to those prepared though the manual process.
Despite blood services being a national function, there is an intergovernmental framework which has been developed between counties and the ministry of health awaiting signing.
Kenya National Blood Transfusion Bill, 2020 presented at the National Assembly, aims at transforming KNBTS into a parastatal, to regulate blood services.
The Bill sponsored by Murang’a Woman Representative Sabina Chege is pending at the Senate.
In the Bill, county governments in collaboration with KNBTS shall carry out an inspection on health facilities for blood transfusion safety.
Chepkok acknowledged blood services were greatly affected after the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief’s (Pepfar) support came to an end in 2019.
However, there has been increased budgetary allocation by the Treasury from Sh200 million to Sh700 million, in addition to Sh1 billion from the World Bank grants, money that has enhanced services.
“We have adequate reagents for screening blood. We are therefore liaising with counties to help in the mobilisation drive, to attain the target,” said Chepkok.