Blood money: Puzzle of firm selling donations

The Kenya National Blood Transfusion Services (KNBTS) is in the spotlight after revelations that donated blood is delivered to hospitals by a private company at a minimum cost of Sh2,500.

Life Bank Kenya transports the blood after it has been screened and tested. The Nation procured one pint of blood from the company for Sh2,500 within hours of requesting it.

KNBTS director Dr Nduku Kilonzo did not deny that the agency had issued blood to Life Bank, but she said private hospitals only charge for blood when they have tested it before it is used.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that donated blood be screened for infections before it is used.

Screening for HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and syphilis should be mandatory.

Blood screening should be performed according to quality requirements

“We only issue blood to requisition from transfusing facilities. We have no contract with Life Bank or any ambulances that pick up blood from us. We only give blood to anyone coming with a requisition form and cold chain equipment,” Dr Kilonzo said.

This is despite the fact that KNBTS, Nairobi Metropolitan Services and Life Bank launched a blood bank earlier this year at an event that she also attended.

Mr Kagwe said the blood should be free and screening done by KNBTS at no cost. “I am not aware of that company. However, no one is allowed to take blood from KNBTS and sell,” he said.

Questions are also raised whether the couriers ensure the safety of the blood during transportation.

Efforts to get a comment from Life Bank were unsuccessful.

On its website, Life Bank says: “We are safer because we move blood in a WHO-recommended cold chain system.”

LifeBank says it’s trusted by over 500 hospitals in Kenya and Nigeria to deliver medical supplies to hospitals in Africa using technology and a multi-modal distribution platform.

The firm says it offers 24 hours service for all hospitals in its network, adding “we are able to provide access to safe blood in the event of an emergency or non-availability of a rare blood type.”

Selling blood is illegal

Kenya is a signatory to the World Health Assembly Resolution (WHA 28, 72 of 1975) which requires each member State to develop a comprehensive well-coordinated blood transfusion service, based on voluntary non-enumerated blood donation.

According to the policy, blood products are administered for genuine therapeutic needs only with no financial motivation on the part of either the prescriber or the health institution.

A Bill now in Parliament to establish KNBTS as a State entity with the sole responsibility of regulating and coordinating blood transfusion services would make it a critical time to be at the helm of the unit.

The Bill proposes a semi-autonomous, centrally coordinated blood service unit with a specific mandate, structure and governance mechanisms to carry out such services in conjunction with county governments.

This means the KNBTS director would run a fully functional parastatal.

It would also mean that the director would have access to Sh500 million from the Universal Health Coverage programme, as well as Sh1 billion from the World Bank intended to strengthen KNBTS’ capacity.

The proposed law that also targets a cartel said to be profiting from the blood trade also states that health facility owners would be fined Sh1 million or be imprisoned for three years for selling blood without the Health Cabinet Secretary’s clearance.

The KNBTS Bill, 2020 prohibits imports or exports of blood without the express permission of the Health Cabinet Secretary.

This Bill coincided with Mr Kagwe’s calls for investigations into KNBTS operations over reports that blood was being sold beyond Kenya’s borders.

The Directorate of Criminal Investigations has since opened investigations.

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