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Kenya’s blood shortage and aid addiction recovery

Tonanger leads to Mariam Mwinyiusi had an IV opened. Last year, her friend died because she couldn’t get a blood transfusion in time. “I can prevent it from happening to another person,” she said at a blood bank in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

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Blood shortages have been a big problem in Kenya, as well as in many other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, for years. The price has been untold suffering, mainly for mothers and children. Nearly 52 percent of children admitted to hospital with severe anemia died in three East African countries if they did not receive a blood transfusion within eight hours, researchers at Imperial College London found. In contrast, 96 percent of those who received immediate blood transfusions survived.

Other studies have found that 26 percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa who die in childbirth could have been saved had blood been available. The World Health Organization estimates that 65,000 pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa die each year from blood loss. The Kenyan government estimates that 35% of maternal deaths in 2020 were related to blood shortages.

There are several reasons why Kenya has so little bottled blood. Until recently, governments rarely spent money on blood drives to attract donors, who often only showed up when a friend or relative needed a pint. Many fear that if they donate their money to the bank, they may run out of money if relatives need to top it up.

However, until 2020, most of the funding for Kenyan blood services came from the United States, through the President’s Emergency Plan AIDS comfort(Presidential Emergency Relief Plan). This is primarily focused on ensuring that blood is tested to curb the spread of infection, e.g. HIVrather than promoting donations.

In 2019, the U.S. stopped issuing checks as part of a long-term plan to wean African countries off aid from blood services. It has been successful in countries including Ethiopia and Tanzania, whose governments paid full bills for their blood banks between 2014 and 2016. But in Kenya, the government’s share of spending on blood transfusion centers has declined.

When covid-19 hit in 2020, the funding problem was even worse. Donations have plummeted as schools closed, blood drives were canceled and people were urged to avoid mixing blood. Between July 2019 and June 2020, blood transfusion centers in Kenya collected only 164,000 units, out of an estimated need of 470,000-1 million units. However, the crisis has also brought an emergency infusion of cash from the World Bank. Of the $50 million in concessional funding to help Kenya fight COVID-19, $10 million is earmarked to improve its blood transfusion infrastructure, including 15 new blood banks (bringing the total to 45) and frequent blood drives. It is paying off. In the 12 months to June 2022, Kenya collected 348,000 units of blood.

Yet Kenya’s reliance on concessional funding still leaves its blood bank in a precarious position: Another sudden cut could leave Kenya anemic again, although with luck new donors like Ms Mwinyiusi will become regular donors. “The benefit of donating blood,” she said, “is that we’re helping reduce the number of people with advanced disease.”

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