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Why ‘expectant’ Thika fathers are donating blood

Health & Science

Expectant fathers donating blood at Thika Level Five hospital, March 1, 2022. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Kevin Thiong’o, a resident of Juja, woke up early to accompany his wife for Antenatal care (ANC) at Thika Level Five Hospital.

Being a first-time father, he is anxious.

He knows each stage of pregnancy counts that is why he accompanies his wife to the clinic, to ensure her safety and that of their unborn baby.

The clinic takes quite some time, but Mr Thiong’o is patient.

After the two-hour session, Mr Thiong’o walks to the facility’s transfusion unit where he donates a pint of blood, in preparation for any eventuality during delivery.

“I have been donating blood for friends and relatives, but today I came purposefully to donate for my wife who is scheduled for a Caesarean Section,” Mr Thiong’o told The Standard.

“My wife has carried our baby for months, and having been part of this journey, I have a role of ensuring there is blood during the CS,” he added.

Mr Thiong’o is among hundreds of fathers advocating blood donation to avert maternal and infant deaths attributed to inadequate blood supply.

The clinics, like the one Mr Thiong’o attends with his wife, take place across the county. During such visits mothers are advised on proper diet during pregnancy, importance of regular medical checkups and hospital delivery.

Expectant fathers are asked to be part of the pregnancy journey. One of the ways of doing this is by donating blood in case of postpartum haemorrhage.

Women are asked to prepare their families for blood donation before they are admitted. The fathers donate at least three times a year.

Mr John Ngata, a clergyman, is among expectant fathers sensitising the church community on the importance of donating blood.

“I am happy to have convinced some of my friends and church members to donate blood,” said the father of two.

Ms Mary Wanjera, a senior Nursing Officer at the Mary Help of the Sick, told The Standard that in the past men did not attend ante-natal clinic.

ANC sessions, she acknowledged, have made it easier to sensitise men on the need to donate blood.

The mission facility records at least 170 deliveries per month. At least three women require an estimate of three to five pints of blood.

“Until a patient delivers, and goes to the ward, and is not bleeding, that is when you can say the patient is safe, because bleeding from maternity can come because of prolonged labour or some tears,” she explained.

High volume of blood is also consumed by cancer patients, undergoing chemotherapy.

As per health indicators, Kiambu did not record any maternal death in 2021 due to lack of blood. Postpartum haemorrhage is the major cause of maternal deaths globally. In Kenya, it accounts for at least 34 per cent of maternal deaths. 

Globally, it is estimated that 14 million women develop postpartum haemorrhage, with 127,000 deaths reported annually.

Kiambu Health Executive Dr Joseph Murega attributes the achievement to involvement of expectant mothers in blood donation drive.

“Having men donate blood when their wives are expectant guarantees adequate supply of blood, since nobody can predict whether a mother will need blood either due to excessive bleeding after normal delivery, or after CS.”

Though the aim of the blood drive led by expectant fathers is to avert maternal deaths, the blood does not only benefit mothers. It is also used for medical and surgical procedures in all the 110 public facilities, and private ones.

“We ride on the motto ‘blood should not meet patient, but let patients meet blood’. This is the only sure way to fight postpartum haemorrhage, and boost healthcare,” observed Dr Murega.

Thika Level Five hospital consumes about 20 units of blood every day, with maternity being the highest consumer, according to the facility’s deputy medical superintendent Dr Catherine Munyendo.About 800 to 900 deliveries are registered at the facility monthly, out of which about 250 are CSs.

In January this year, a total of 841 deliveries were recorded at Thika Level Five Hospital, out of which there were at least 34 cases of postpartum haemorrhage. Ten developed postpartum haemorrhage complications.

The Standard met Stellah Wamug undergoing transfusion after being diagnosed with anaemia. She was seven months  pregnant and had a Hb, blood level, of 5.6.

“I was in shock, after a nurse at an ANC clinic said my blood levels were low and needed an immediate transfusion to save my life and that of my unborn baby. My worries have been contained after the transfusion,” said the mother who had received three pints of blood.

Dr Murega said there is need to increase blood supply in satellite clinics to meet high demand by patients.

Kiambu, located along the country’s Northern Corridor, is prone to road accidents.

“We are receiving high volume of patients, a number that comes from outside the county, and to revamp healthcare, we need to open more blood donation sites,” observed Dr Murega.

Susan Wairegi, the county blood transfusion coordinator, said apart from use of expectant fathers to source for blood, learning institutions and churches are also engaged to replenish blood banks.

Nationally, demand for blood is due to growing number of CSs and cancer of the cervix, which kill about nine women every day, according to Kenya National Blood Transfusion Tissue and Human Organ Transplant Service (KNBTS).

Patients with cancer of the cervix are transfused with platelets to stop bleeding, with a number missing out on chemotherapy due to low haemoglobin (blood) levels.

As the country gears towards the implementation of Universal Health Coverage, the CEO KNBTS, Dr Nduku Kilonzo notes that adequate and safe blood for transfusion will be key, to reduce hospital stay for patients thus reducing cost of healthcare.

In an interview with The Standard, the CEO said to guarantee smooth blood drive, the department has had an overhaul in management level, reviving blood banks and expanding processing capacity.

“One thing that is unnegotiable is to ensure that the blood that is donated is screened, and grouped, so that when it is being delivered to a patient it is safe,” said Dr Kilonzo.

In 2021, the agency had a banking capacity of 24,000 units, a number that has increased to 50,000 units.

The Kenyan 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 Treasury from Sh200 million to Sh700 million, in addition to Sh1 billion grants from World Bank which enhanced services.

There are currently six regional blood transfusion centres in the country, in addition to 30 satellites.

However, plans are underway to install a satellite in all the 47 counties to enhance blood services, said Kilonzo.

Blood drive has also been boosted. With the installation of apheresis machines, donors no longer have to donate whole blood.

The machine gives a donor an opportunity to select the type of blood component they wish to donate. They can choose to donate plasma, platelets or red blood cells.

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