14th June every year is a day set aside the world over to donate blood. Blood is life without which one cannot live or survive because the body’s organs cannot get the oxygen or
nutrients they need to survive. Without blood our bodies cannot keep warm or cool off, fight infections and one would weaken and die.
It is with this in mind that Kenya recognized the need to set up a national blood service in line with WHO recommendations. In 2001 the blood policy guidelines were developed and a
coordinating office established. Kenya as a country recognizes the importance of donating blood that it has set guidelines in the Kenya National Strategic Plan to ensure that donated and transfused
blood is safe and is not contaminated. The World Health Organization outlines a number of recommendations which countries should follow to maintain a safe and constant blood supply. These steps prevent transfusion-transmissible infections which include HIV, Hepatitis and syphilis passing from a blood donor to a recipient. These recommendations which are ensured by the Kenya National Blood transfusion Service include having a
nationally coordinated blood transfusion service which is the KNBTS, voluntary unpaid donors, testing all donated blood, ensuring efficient and appropriate blood use, ensuring a safe transfusion practice and having a quality check throughout the transfusion process.
The HIV virus is easily transmitted through blood transfusions. Blood transfusion will always carry certain risks, but the risk of HIV transmission through blood transfusion can and is virtually prevented. In these days of HIV and AIDS blood is thoroughly screened and tested for the presence of diseases causing viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms, and the presence of anti-bodies produced against these
agents. The tests carried out on the blood are in line with WHO requirements and meet international standards. Once screened, unsafe blood units are sorted and incinerated or destroyed while safe
units are stored at appropriate temperature in cold rooms.
It is important to note that HIV tests are very sensitive and there is a window period, which is the onset of HIV infection and the appearance of detectable anti-bodies to the virus. In the
case of most sensitive HIV tests the window period is about three weeks. The KNBTS uses the latest technologies to test and screen donated blood thus ensuring its safety.
The Kenya National Blood Transfusion Services has been having challenges in meeting the country’s demands. Currently the country requires about 200,000 units of blood per year in order to meet these
demands. This is largely due to the fact that most people are afraid of donating blood in the fear that they may find their HIV status. Similarly there are those who think that once they donate blood for free, their blood will in turn
be sold to other people. Some people still shy away from donating blood because of their religious and cultural beliefs. Willing donors on the other hand find it exhausting to locate a blood collection point.
However the Director of the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Services says only 1.3 % of collected blood is found to be HIV positive. She urges Kenyans to get tested for HIV so they can have the fear
of finding their status removed to enable them donate blood, because blood is life.