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Students at the heart of plan to save blood banks

Stella Awinja, 21, a student at Moi University, donates blood at Mombasa blood centre. /FILE
Stella Awinja, 21, a student at Moi University, donates blood at Mombasa blood centre. /FILE

"For the life of the flesh is in the blood." Could this phrase, tucked in Leviticus 17:11, explain the low blood donation levels in Kenya?

According to the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Services, despite Kenya's bulky youthful population, the country has only about 200,000 units of blood in storage, which is half the World Health Organisation's target for Kenya.

The low levels are partly linked to beliefs linking blood donation to giving away one's own life.

“I have never donated blood. I am personally scared of needles and I also hear that your blood levels in the body reduce and you might get sick due to this,” says Amina Michelle, a student at the University of Nairobi.

Joseph Kamotho, a public relations specialist at KNBTS, says they counsel donors adequately so they understand the process and how it affects them.

Every donation point has a counselor to psychologically prepare the donor. Apart from a counselor, mobilisers, recruiters, nurses, lab technicians and phlebotomists interact with the blood from the moment it leaves your body to the moment it gets to the recipient.

In Kenya, not everyone can donate blood. Donors should be 16 to 65 years, at least 50kg and above, and their haemoglobin level should be at 12.5. There is no maximum weight stipulated for the donation of blood.

Schools and universities are the biggest targets of KNBTS because they hold the largest number of healthy youths in one place.

The only challenge with the youth is that many of them use drugs and have skin-piercing body arts, which disqualifies them.

“I donate blood twice a year and it has not had any side-effects on me,” says Mariah Ashley, who has donated blood for three years.

Kamotho says blood is always donated for free, and it is never resold.

After collection, it is stored using the cold chain management, where it cools before being placed in cooler boxes for transportation from the collection point to storage location.

TACKLING SHORTAGE

To stem the shortage, KNBTS uses occasions like the World Donor Day and the recent Valentine's Day to create awareness on blood donation.

In Kenya, the main financiers are the government, the US Presidential Emergency Fund For Aid Relief (Pepfar) and the Global Fund, who support with lab equipment.

"Kenyans can make it routine to walk into the transfusion centre and donate blood. Blood donations can also be done when organisations mobilise their staff and convince them to donate blood at the comfort of their office," Kamotho says.

Scientists are yet to come up with lab-made blood consisting of all the elements present in the human blood. Therefore, blood transfusion remains the only way to give blood and save a life.

"Not only does the blood receiver benefit as is believed by many, but also the donor. It gives the body a chance to generate more cells," Kamotho says.

"Also, blood that is donated goes through various tests, which can help the donor detect any underlying issues in their bodies before they get out of hand."

There are six regional blood transfusion centres, in Nairobi, Embu, Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisumu and Mombasa.

There are also 14 satellite areas: Machakos, Kisii, Voi, Naivasha ,Thika, Lodwar, Bungoma, Kitale, Malindi, Garissa, Nyeri, Kericho and Kakamega.

"Blood donation should be a process that gives one satisfaction, as it is equated to giving a part of you to someone else and saving their life. This is an act of love and kindness that surpasses any other," Kamotho adds.

Truly, the life of the flesh is in the blood. But how many are willing to share?