Blood donation is an essential contribution to healthcare delivery. However, it is not uncommon to hear, especially public hospitals, send out urgent appeals to the public to come out and donate blood to save lives. Such desperation could be easily avoided if blood banks would be regularly replenished. One of the biggest challenges, however, is the lack of public awareness on the need for blood donations, with myths being perpetuated to discourage would-be donors.
The Health ministry is currently grappling with a deficit of more than 800,000 units a year. According to Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki, the country needs nearly a million units of blood a year. It is sad that only two per cent of the population voluntarily donates blood, and yet the demand is going to exponentially increase with the implementation of universal healthcare.
Last year, the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service collected a miserly 164,275 units, which was way below the national target and the voluntary non-paid donations recommended by the World Health Organisation. Access to blood can mean the difference between life and death during a delicate surgery when a transfusion is absolutely necessary. This often happens when, for instance, patients have lost a lot of blood as often happens during road accidents and violent incidents.
The blood donor service needs to step up its awareness campaign to get more Kenyans to see the necessity to volunteer to donate blood. There is a need to dispel myths about donating blood to assuage their fears about the supposed risk. CS Kariuki’s goal of getting two per cent of the population to regularly donate blood is achievable. And the expert assurance that a healthy man can donate blood four times a year and a woman three times, should be the message at the core of the awareness campaign.
Also encouraging is the minister’s pledge to provide funds to fill the gap left by the withdrawal of a major donor. This is a crucial part of efforts to improve healthcare in the country. For a healthy population is key to productivity and national development.