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Against complications brought about by Covid, Kenyans donated 203,000 pints of blood as at July 2021

By Faith Kyoumukama
Monday, August 23rd, 2021 00:00 | 5 mins read
Blood donation. Photo/File

Brenda Nurua is a frequent blood donor, but because of the technicalities surrounding the pandemic, she has since been deterred from making any donation.  The last time she did it was in 2019. 

“Honestly, I’m a bit sceptical about visiting hospitals or anywhere that has groups of people, despite the proper measures put in place. It might sound selfish, but to be honest, it will take some time before I go back to donate blood,” she shares. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that blood donations in Africa dropped by 17 per cent, and blood drives reduced due to the pandemic, adding to maternal threats in Africa. 

The health agency also said the frequency of blood drives on the continent has dropped by 25 per cent and demand for blood declined by 13 per cent, following the suspension of routine surgeries and reduced number of people seeking care in health centres. 

According to Peter Waiganjo, Venture development manager at AMREF Africa in Kenya, the country’s blood bank is supposed to receive one million pints of blood every year, this could be translated to 1,500 to 3,000 patients needing blood every day, 60 per cent of whom are mothers and children. 

Kilemi Thambura of Damu Sasa, says many reasons impact blood donation and some pertain to different aspects of the blood services value chain.

Damu Sasa System runs a blood services platform that makes it is easy for facilities to register donors, target blood donation appeals and track donated units through the value chain.

“Donor culture is one of the reasons. While individuals can show up to donate for a sick relative, not many show up purely due to an appeal for blood.

As such, people need to understand the value of donating blood and its importance in saving lives,” he says.

Thambura adds that based on the national needs, the current funding of the services and staff comport may not be sufficient.

Trust is yet another reason he gives that may affect  blood donation. He says that in some rare cases, people may not donate, because they don’t believe the blood will be used as intended.

Vaccine link

Dorcas Njeri, 25, wanted to donate blood for a friend at Nairobi Hospital, but on inquiry at the reception, she was asked whether she had received the Covid-19 vaccine. 

Since she had gotten the jab, she was turned away, with the nurse saying it is recommended that one should donate blood after three months of receiving the vaccine. 

Anne Mawaka, yet another hopeful donor said that she was asked to come after a week of receiving the vaccine to donate blood. 

“I made a call to the hospital before going and they asked whether I had gotten the jab.

They asked me to come after a week, citing reasons that some patients are experiencing extreme side effects, such as seizures, fever, flu after taking the vaccine’’ Mawaka says.

Boniface Githaiga, a pathologist at Nairobi Hospital told the People Daily  that the hospital blood donation guidelines are based on the National Blood Transfusion Service (KNBTS).

However, since KNBTS doesn’t have specific guidelines in regards to Covid-19, the hospital refers to international guidelines to guide the practice. 

“Different regulatory bodies have different guidelines. For example, the American Red Cross does not advocate deferral time for individuals who receive a Covid-19 vaccine as long as they are symptom-free and feeling well at the time of donation.

However, the Australian Red Cross advocates for a seven-day deferral after receiving each vaccine before donating blood, plasma, or platelets.

This wait time applies to all types of Covid-19 vaccinations” Githaiga said.

He added that out of an abundance of caution, the hospital decided to implement the one week deferral policy, which is the practice in most hospitals in Kenya. 

The above deferrals raise a lot of questions, the biggest being if there any reason behind them both scientifically and medically.  

Waiganjo says there has not been any scientific proof that prevents one from donating blood after vaccination. 

“In this case, the hospital is taking precautions given the side effects stated. I believe you can give blood even after vaccination because it is intended to offer protection, thus it’s a precautionary measure.

I advocate that as long as you have been fully vaccinated, you should be able to donate blood,” he said.

Waiganjo further states that blood is very emotive; the need supersedes the risks at hand. 

“We are all standing in to learn about the diseases. Hospitals might have different grounding on when one should donate blood, but I would like to believe that the reason is counteractive, of course,” he added.

Follow guidelines

Thambura says there are new antibodies introduced upon vaccination and the donated blood has fewer side effects to the recipients of the blood, however, this should not restrict one from donating blood.  

In KNBTS’s Guidance for Blood Management Intracovid-19, it is acknowledged that there are no reported cases of Covid-19 acquired through transfusion of blood and components globally and there have been no evidence the virus can be passed through transfusion.

The document offers protocols that must be followed in the blood donation and transfusion process, including temperature checks for donors and how long a person fully recovered from the disease could donate.

Speaking to People Daily, Kenya National Blood Transfusion CEO Nduku Kilonzo says that the number of donations has gone up. 

“We are about to release our review in the next few weeks and the good news is amidst the pandemic, blood donation has increased between December 2020 to June this year,” she says, adding that from December last year to July 2021, they have collected 203,000 pints, the highest they have raised in any year. 

“I would want state that everyone needs to understand the need for blood. We have seen Kenyans are willing to save the lives of others, pandemic or no pandemic, and the need for blood does not go away just because of a pandemic.

There is no pharmaceutical substitute for blood, and we have seen a lot of Kenyans come out in numbers to donate,” she says.

Nduku adds that the developed guidelines and the management of blood in the context of Covid-19 have made an impact on the increase of donation numbers. 

“Whether it’s at the point of collection, processing stage then to transfusion facilities, getting everyone to understand the guidelines of what we can and cannot do has translated to great numbers,” she explains.

Nduku adds that they had to come up with a different internal mechanism to conduct blood drives.

First, the organisation does daily stock tracking to determine  how much they have collected and given across the country.

“We are working on a blood management system that will be deployed across transfusion facilities, which is based on a track and trace system; once blood is donated and  components prepared, it can be traced to the requesting facilities down to the patient.

The systems are about 75 per cent complete and we are looking at initiating and testing its applicability in the first week of October,” she says.

They also have a partnership with the Rotary Club and the Boda boda Association to hold blood drives once every quarter.  

 “We are also working closely with the county in areas with direct link between  transfusion facilities and using them as targets weekly.

This has helped with availability of blood. We have been taking full advantage of national campaigns, namely Valentine’s Day, International Blood Donor Day and Women’s Day,” she adds.

Faith Kyoumukama

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