USAid's Sh187 million grant to regional blood transfusion centres is a significant contribution to ensuring safe blood for Kenyans, especially at this time of a runaway HIV/Aids crisis and such other conditions as Hepatitis B.
Announcing the donation at the start of the annual Blood Donation Week, Medical Services Minister Amukowa Anangwe assured Kenyans that all donated blood was safe since it was screened.
It is an assurance that Kenyans desperately need, given persistent reports that some fairly large regional hospitals have been unable to ensure regular testing. Their fears are perfectly legitimate, given the fact that some of the diseases transmitted through blood are chronic and incurable.
The centres' launch will presumably tie in with the recent announcement of HIV testing and counselling centres countrywide. But they will also be important in managing the fallout of disasters, such as the major road accidents we experience in Kenya.
The centres should go a long way to boost our capacity to implement the blood transfusion service policy developed in line with World Health Organisation requirements.
Even though we must, of necessity, develop the centres gradually, it is important that blood donation and transfusion services countrywide be streamlined and managed efficiently. This is one area in which even the whiff of a scandal can set off a national crisis.
The towns targeted as centres include Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru, Embu, Mombasa, Kakamega and Garissa – thus ensuring coverage at the provincial level at the very least.
This calls for close co-ordination with district health services as they are often the first port of call by patients. They are convenient, too, because many poor Kenyans do not have the resources to enable them to reach the larger urban centres.
This presumes, however, that the Ministry of Health will be in a position to promote blood donation effectively among Kenyans, who, by all accounts, have shown up in fewer and fewer numbers over the years.
What this implies is that all players in the health sector will have to work hard at building the confidence of Kenyans to face up to the greater demand for blood in the face of a growing population and of the dangers of being given contaminated blood.
The blood transfusion centres are clearly a step in the right direction. This is one strategy that should be speedily implemented and given the necessary support.