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Deaths, pain as blood crisis persists at Nyanza's biggest hospital

By Graham Kajilwa and Mactilda Mbenywe | December 6th 2019 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

An expectant woman at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga hospital. [Denish Ochieng/Standard]

The Ministry of Health has dispatched a team to assess the blood bank crisis in counties.

Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki said the actual reason for the crisis would only be determined after the fact-finding mission.

The crisis, which has hit hospitals in Nyanza and Coast regions, has been blamed partly on lack of basic items like blood bags. This means that even if the county facilities sought to carry out blood drives, they have no equipment for such exercises.

Donor funds

Health CS said she is well aware of the shortage as she has been following up the matter.

“But I will have to get back on the matter by the end of the week as I am expecting the report from the team on Friday,” she said.

Ms Kariuki said even as reports claim the crisis is as a result of donor funds cut, the government has been prepared to step in.

A lot of activities around blood donation have been funded by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar).

But since Kenya is no longer considered a lower-income country, donors like Pepfar are slowly withdrawing their support.

“The concern has been on reduction of funds, but the government has always stepped in to fill this shortage in terms of resources,” said the CS, speaking during the signing of the 2019/2020 performance contracts with parastatals and regulatory bodies under the Ministry of Health.

At Nyanza’s biggest referral hospital, a number of patients have died in the past five days due to shortage of blood.

Doctors at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH) who spoke on condition of anonymity claimed 30 patients have died. However, The Standard could neither independently verify the number of deaths nor confirm whether they were solely attributable to the blood shortage.

Medics at the hospital are now warning the situation may worsen in the coming days unless the county and national governments step in to save the situation.

According to records shared with The Standard by some of the doctors, 10 people died on November 29, 2019, as medics struggled to save their lives.

“Most of those who succumbed were anaemic and required blood transfusion. They were from the ICU, gynaecology ward 8,” said a doctor who did not want to be named due to sensitivity of the matter.

Unusual traffic

The hospital recorded another 10 deaths on November 30 and six more on December 1. The hospitals lost two patients each on November 27 and 28.

Although mortuary attendants declined to speak on the matter, non-medical employees said they have in the past few days witnessed an ‘unusual traffic’ of bodies from the wards to the morgue.

The hospital is said to have postponed a number of scheduled surgeries due to the blood shortage.

Problems at the JOOTRH have been compounded by the fact that the hospital also lacks adequate drugs, vital laboratory test kits and reagents.

This, coupled with the on-going strike by clinical officers and a looming industrial action by doctors, leaves the facility in deep crisis.

The hospital’s X-Ray and CT scan equipment had also broken down, forcing doctors to refer patients to private hospitals.

When The Standard visited the facility for a fact-finding mission, a number of patients were being turned away at its pharmacy, and instead given notes directing them to private chemists.

The hospital’s Chief Executive Officer, Peter Okoth, confirmed they were facing a blood crisis but denied the hospital had lost upto 30 patients in the last five days. He said the figure was inaccurate, alleging that some people were fighting the hospital administration for political reasons.

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