Counties appeal for blood transfusion centres to address shortage
By Susan Mwenesi
The gloomy weather outside perfectly matched the mood of the woman sitting opposite me, no doubt thinking about the sad turn of events in her life.
Mrs Pamela Liyai was hale and hearty last year but now she is waiting for her fifth session of chemotherapy. The treatment has been going well, but now there is a hitch: the doctors have told her that she cannot get the next session until she has 10 units of blood. Liyai has found only six.
She is worried because she has been told that if she misses the session, then she will have to start the treatment afresh. This means that she will lose the Sh200,000 she has spent on the chemotherapy. She found two pints of the blood type she needed at the facility she was referred to. However, only one was immediately available, meaning she would have incur bed charges at the facility as she waited for the second unit. She decided to go back home to wait. Even after paying the Sh6,800 she was asked for, she is not sure she will get the blood in time for her chemotherapy session.
Across the town, Vince Kadush is waiting anxiously in a private high-end hospital. His child needs urgent blood transfusion and he has been asked to pay Sh35,000. This came as a surprise to him because he thought that since people donate blood for free, he would not need to pay for it to save the life of his child. He wonders what happens to patients who cannot pay for blood.
In a rural county referral hospital, the family of Paul Juma was quite shocked when it became apparent that they had to pay for their kin to get urgent medical attention. “I was attacked by a trespasser who hit me with a stone that raptured my spleen, leading to internal bleeding. I needed surgery,” says Juma. When his family could not provide the blood needed for the surgery, his cousin was told to pay. He was lucky that his cousin had a rapport with the staff at the hospital, so he was treated and the cost of the blood included in his bill.
Hardly a week passes without an appeal for blood on our social media platforms. Many of the responses are usually half-hearted attempts to help. It is only when a close relative or friend is in urgent need of a transfusion that we think about the consequences of the perennial shortage of blood in our health facilities.
In 2017, when violence marred the repeat presidential election, the Kenya Red Cross Society set up an emergency response for blood after it became apparent that Nyanza region was experiencing acute shortage. Another appeal was made in January this year after the terrorist attack on the 14 Riverside Drive complex in Westlands, Nairobi. Kenyans rallied to donate blood for the survivors, most of whom had gunshot wounds.
According to Baringo chief health officer Dr Gideon Toromo the county is facing a major shortage and needs its own blood transfusion centre. “Sometimes we go to Eldoret and Nakuru, the nearest regional blood donation centres. We usually get just one or two pints, sometimes we get none. Just last week we lost a patient who had procured an illegal abortion, all because of lack of blood. We don’t do some surgeries because of shortage of blood,”
He opines that having a donation and screening centre will help alleviate shortage. He explains that sometimes after a donation campaign the county sends 500 pints for screening but only 100 units come back from the regional centres because the blood has to be shared with other hospitals. Toromo estimates that more than Sh40 million is needed to build a blood donation centre in Baringo County. Half of the money would be used to buy equipment and reagents and the other half to set up infrastructure. “We will need another Sh50 million to employ three or four additional workers for an average of Sh100 000 a month each, which would amount to Sh5 million a year. The county government can take over the running of the centre after it is set up.”
Laboratory technician Micah Chebon, who works at the Baringo County Referral Hospital, concurs that there is a shortage of blood and attributes this to the fact that schools have closed and therefore donation campaigns cannot be conducted. He says people are generally reluctant to donate blood because they fear being tested.
“They fear testing positive for certain diseases. Wananchi should know the importance of blood because there is someone in a hospital bed who needs one or two pints to save their life,” says Chebon. He adds that patients in the maternity wing and surgery candidates, as well as road accident victims are the most affected by shortage of blood.
The hospital depends on blood donation campaigns organised by churches. They face challenges such as lack of fuel for vehicles, refreshments to be given to donors, and allowances for the nurses and lab technicians. The county government often chips in to offset some of the expenses. Chebon also says more blood storage facilities are needed.