Kenya: Investments in safe blood supply have broad impact (February 2006)


The 1998 terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi revealed severe deficiencies in Kenya's blood supply system. One element of the USG response to this tragedy was funding for improvement of both the capacity and the quality of this vital component of the public health infrastructure. American funding strengthened the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) and allowed construction of six Regional Blood Transfusions Centres (RBTC).

With the advent of the President's Emergency Plan, Kenya is capitalizing on earlier USG investments and implementing a multifaceted strategy to establish a national system that meets the need for safe blood. There has been over a 50% increase in blood collected from low-risk volunteer donors and screened for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B and C.

The program in place today includes: training of health workers to reduce the number of unnecessary transfusions; provision of essential commodities such as blood bags; work with the Kenya Red Cross Society and Hope Worldwide to educate and mobilize voluntary donors through community- and faith-based organizations; support for distance learning for laboratory technicians; a transfusion medicine course to train RBTC directors; and in-service training for over 100 NBTS personnel.

Due to these capacity-building investments, the share of Kenya's estimated annual demand for safe blood that could be met with screened units has increased from approximately 40 percent in 2004 to over 60 percent in 2005. In 2006, it is expected that over 80 percent of demand will be met with fully screened blood from voluntary donors.

PEPFAR investments are producing system-wide benefits. While safe blood is associated with reduced transmission of HIV, it is noteworthy that high rates of anemia associated with malaria in children and complications of pregnancy account for 75% of the annual demand for transfusions in Kenya. Emergency Plan contributions to safe blood serve not only to prevent HIV infections, but to reduce maternal and child morbidity and mortality as well.

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