Full scale medical crisis as hospitals run out of blood

Sunday, December 1st, 2019 00:00 | By
Full scale medical crisis as hospitals run out of blood.

Patrick Mwangi, Sophie Njoka and Rebecca Wangari

A full fledged crisis has taken hold across the country’s hospitals as blood banks in Kenya finally run dry, with patients now dying from lack of blood. 

Apparently, there has been nothing done to deal with the situation despite an alarm raised by the People Daily newspaper in a series of stories on the looming crisis two months ago.

Stakeholders across the medical sector in Kenya had warned back in August 2019 that Kenya was staring at a catastrophe, since the funding from the American government that the country had been almost wholly dependent upon to finance the collecting, screening, storage and distribution of blood in the country, was coming to an end on September 30, 2019.

The most recent impact is the suspension of complex surgeries by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Rererral Hospital in Kisumu.

The hospital, which serves more than 10 counties with an estimated population of five million people, announced that it would not be able to carry out such surgeries until the blood supply situation improved. This has put many lives at risk, and the situation looks set to worsen.

In Mombasa county,  six women have died as a result of post partum haemorrhage (PPH), blood loss after birth, in the past six months, due to lack of blood at the facility.

County Chief Officer of Medical Services Dr. Khadija Shikely said that out of 24 women who had developed birth-related complications at the Coast Provincial General Hospital, six had died due to lack of blood.

“There is a crisis, these numbers account only for those referred to the  Coast Provincial General Hospital, and not all other sub-county hospitals,” she said. 

She noted that Coast Provincial General Hospital is receives 450 to 500 units of blood from the blood bank. “We have a huge deficit which we are unable to meet since we require 800 units a month, while we can only provide half of it,” she said. 

Dire situation  

Dr. Peter Mwamba, a haematologist and blood transfusion specialist at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), says the situation is poised to become even more dire.

Mwamba says the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Services (KNBTS), the agency mandated to handle blood in Kenya, has completely run out of funds. “There is no active collection of blood,” he says.

Hospitals have been forced to collect and screen their own blood from friends and relatives of patients. This is complicated by the fact that the safety of that blood cannot be assured.

Stakeholders have proposed that the only way  Kenya can ensure self sufficiency in blood and resolve the current crisis is by enactment of a law.

Under the aegis of the Committee of Blood Donation and Transfusion Stakeholders (CBDTS), the stakeholders have drafted the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Legislative Proposal 2019, which has been adopted by Parliament’s Committee on Health.

The chairman of CBDTS,  Joseph Wangendo, says  blood transfusion services are at a standstill.

The Health Committee met with blood stakeholders last week in Mombasa to discuss the bill. Speaking after the meeting, the Health Committee chairperson Sabina Chege said limited funding from the government and over reliance on donor funding had led to deaths due to the crisis of blood shortage.

“The crisis being witnessed in the country is as a result of unclear law provision, and lack of clarity on the role of the government in the provision of blood transfusion services,” she said.

Noting the gravity and urgency of the matter, Sabina said,  “We are going to fast track meetings with all the relevant stakeholders to ensure this bill passes and becomes a law by March 2020.” 

During the retreat, the Health Committee came face to face with the gravity of the blood situation in the country when it visited the Mombasa Blood Bank, which is situated next to Coast General and Referral Hospital. 

“There is no running water, staff have no gloves, the coldroom (where blood is stored) has been turned into a store, staff are demoralised, and vehicles are grounded,” said Wangendo.

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