Hope as more Kenyans offer to donate blood
mily Ruhunga Embemba, 43 who hails from Sabatia in Vihiga County started donating blood at the age of 16 when she was in Form Two.
She has so far donated blood five times driven by a passion to save life regardless of her relationship with the recipient, distance, race or religion.
Emily recounts the first time she donated blood and how her life changed after the excercise. “I was in secondary school when we received visitors from the World Health Organisation (WHO). They said they had come to collect blood from willing students and that the blood will help seriously ill patients who needed it. I did not know much about blood donation at the time, but when I heard that volunteers would be given bread and soda, I offered to donate,” chuckles Emily, a mother of four children and a teacher by profession.
Though she didn’t quite understand the impact of donating blood, and was doing it just for the niceties that came with it, the units of blood that she gave would go a long way in giving someone their life back.
The second time she donated blood was when her uncle fell sick and was admitted at the Vihiga County Referral Hospital.
“He needed blood to save his life. My brother and I went to the hospital to donate blood for him though sadly, he later succumbed. It was devastating. But we tried our best. The third time to donate blood was when my nephew, a Form One student who was suffering from kidney failure required blood. After the transfusion, he pushed through for one year, but unfortunately passed on,” she explains.
In the fourth instance, in 2019, Emily went on to donate blood for her friend’s husband who was also suffering from kidney failure.
In 2021, her friend Wilkister Mmbone who had issues with blood clotting and had been referred to Kakamega County General Teaching and Referral Hospital. Emily had to step in to save her friend.
For Emily and other volunteers who come out to donate blood, it is worth noting that every single donation is a precious lifesaving gift, and repeat donation is the key to building a safe and sustainable blood supply.
And this is why every year, countries around the world mark World Blood Donor Day, which provides a special opportunity to celebrate and thank voluntary blood donors around the world for their gift of blood.
The day has become a major focus for action towards achieving universal access to safe blood transfusion.
This year, the day was marked under the theme Give blood, give plasma, share life, share often. It focused on patients requiring life-long transfusion support and underlined the role every single person can play, by giving the valuable gift of blood or plasma.
It also highlights the importance of giving blood or plasma regularly to create a safe and sustainable supply of blood and blood products that can always be available, all over the world, so that all patients in need can receive timely treatment.
My first time
Many countries, including Kenya, are faced with the challenge of making sufficient blood available, while also ensuring its quality and safety.
One of WHO strategies is to assist low and middle-income countries to improve the availability and quality of human plasma, including optimising the utilisation of the plasma recovered from whole blood donations, and increasing patients’ access to the life-saving plasma protein therapies.
Back in 2008 at the age of 18, Cedric Mwenebatu went on to donate blood. It was his first time taking part in this life saving exercise.
“At the time, I was in Form Four and a team from the Mombasa Blood Transfusion Centre had visited our school to conduct a blood donation drive. Since then, I have never looked back. I have always had a heart of helping people in need and this is what inspired me to continuing the cause,” says Cedric.
Cedric who is the Kenya Red Cross Society, Kajiado North Sub-County focal person and helps with co-coordinating Kenya Red Cross activities in the sub-county says unlike in the past, today the general public is more enlightened on the importance of donating blood hence people are more than ever willing to donate and save a life.
“In my experience with the work I do in the community, whenever I hear of a request for volunteers to give blood to a needy person, there are always eager people willing to come forth and donate as compared to the past,” he says.
“Before donating blood, one has to ensure that they get plenty of sleep the night before they plan to donate, eat a healthy meal and drink plenty of water. It is also important to check with a health professional and see if any medication you may be taking or recently took prevents you from donating blood.”
After donating blood, he says it is also important to drink plenty of fluids to replenish the volume lost and to avoid lifting heavy stuff or participating in strenuious physical activities or sports ot prevent bruising of the venipuncture site and dizziness.
Dr Maurice Wakwabubi, Chief Executive Officer at Kenya Tissue and Transplant Authority (KTTA) says over the years, more Kenyans are embracing blood donation and are coming out to donate it. “This is evidenced by the steady increase in blood collection by the authority. However more awareness and advocacy still needs to be done to achieve blood needs in Kenya,” says Dr Wakwabubi.
Every drop counts in a country where seven Kenyans require a blood transfusion every 10 minutes. In 2020, only 16 per cent of the one million units of blood needed in the country collected.
KTTA in the financial year 2022/23 collected a total of 312,091 blood units, a significant increase from previous years where units collected have been below 200,000.
Based on World Health Organisation guidelines for the proportion of donors relative to total population, Kenya should be collecting as much as one million units of blood a year.
Kenya’s population is 53 million, so even if just one per cent donated blood, the country would have at least 530,000 units. “Response to blood donation in the country is improving owing to the increased awareness, mobilisation and increased visibility of the KTTA in collaboration with the county governments.
The process of blood donation begins with donor education and pre donation counselling of the potential blood donor. This is a confidential process that is beneficial for the potential blood donor and intended recipient,” Wakwabubi explains.
The Ministry of Health through KTTA has provided Apheresis Machines for collection of specific blood components to address specific patient needs. “This technology was only available in a few private facilities in the country. Kenyans can now donate a specific component, such as platelets and the rest of the blood is returned to the donor,” notes Wakwabubi.
Becky Nanyama who works as a Medical Laboratory Technologist in a mission hospital in Kiambu says science is evolving each day and there is development of new and better machines to assist in blood donation though they are expensive.
“I will give a view of my region. I think our regional blood transfusion centre in Thika is doing great. Most transfusion centres largely depend on blood from students in high school and institutions of higher learning. Big private hospitals have their own blood transfusion centres hence they tend to look for their donors,” says Nanyama.
“I must say that in our region more people are coming out to donate blood since we have never lacked blood, even the rare type, in the facility where I work, especially during emergencies. In Kiambu, a WhatsApp group has been formed whereby in case an emergency arises in the hospital where I work and the patient requires a certain blood type which we may not be having in the facility, I will just make a post on the group and the lab that has that blood type will offer it to assist the patient,” adds Nanyama.
“When I look back, I feel so good that I have been of help to save lives through donating blood. Even though some died, others, such as Wilkister survived and whenever I see her, I cry tears of joy and have a lot of fulfillment in my heart,” Emily says.