Why Kenyans are turning to ‘for hire’ blood donors

By Gatonye Gathura

As blood shortages bit in local hospitals, Kenyans may be turning to ‘donors for hire’ some who may not be disclosing their HIV status.

A study published by the Ministry of Health on 16th September 2019 reported higher HIV infections among family replacement blood donors compared to volunteers.

This, researchers suggest may point to desperate Kenyan’s turning to paid donors to pose as relatives while donating blood.

“It is conceivable that a person in need of money is more likely to conceal their true state of health. Monetary motivation of donors might be highly appealing to people who live in desperate financial need,” says the study appearing in the Pan African Medical Journal.

The study involved 594 donors to the Regional Blood Transfusion Centre – Nakuru and a leading mission hospital in the Rift Valley.

Last week while launching a blood donor campaign, the Cabinet Secretary for Health Sicily Kariuki, said Kenya was facing a dire shortage of transfusion blood and appealed for more volunteers.

Kariuki said currently, the country needs about one million units of blood annually but last year the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service (KNTBS) managed to collect a paltry 164,275 units.

These shortages have pushed hospitals and patients to source own blood from family replacement donors or a growing black market.

In October, for example, a health worker in Kisumu was convicted for receiving a Sh28, 000 bribe to arrange a blood transfusion for a patient

In May, KNBTS director Dr Josephine Githaiga condemned what she described as growing illegal trade in transfusion blood in Kenya.

Dr Githaiga disclosed that some public hospitals were selling a pint of blood for up to Sh3, 000 while critical condition patients are being asked for bribes to access blood.

The new study led by Grace Bartonjo of the National Public Health Laboratory, Ministry of Health says more of the family donors were positive for HIV, hepatitis B and C, syphilis compared to volunteers.

“This difference was statistically significant for HIV and the hepatitis C virus,” says the study. Also involved in the work were: Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, United States Army Medical Research Unit, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Nairobi.

But even more worrying, the authors say is the increasing of infectious disease-causing agents among blood donors in this study.

Overall prevalence of infectious agents was 14.1 per cent; at 5.6 per cent for hepatitis B, 3.5 per cent for HIV, 3.2 per cent for hepatitis C, 1.2 per cent for syphilis and 0.7 for malaria.

The report says this was much higher than reported previously in Kenya and warn that unsafe blood transfusion practices can put millions of people at risk of infections.

 “In Africa, 5-10 per cent of HIV transmission is as a result of contaminated blood transfusions,” says the study.

In this study, the authors found donors with a history of previous blood transfusion had a high probability of being positive for syphilis. This is an indication that transfusion blood in Kenya is dangerously contaminated with infectious agents.

“History of blood transfusion was identified to be high risk factor associated with positive syphilis,” says the report.

The team had enrolled 594 participants with 494 from the Nakuru blood center and the rest from the mission hospital. Males constituted 72 per cent with the overall average age at 20 years with 75 per cent of all donors being single.

Married donors, the report shows were at a higher risk of being positive for HIV and syphilis than single persons.

In HIV positive donors, the report says the highest infection occurred in the age group 36-40 years and above 40 years of age and mainly among the married. “Being married was a high risk factor statistically associated with positive syphilis.”

The team says the high prevalence of disease-causing agents identified among apparently healthy blood donors is a serious public health problem.

“The Ministry of Health and other stake holders should ensure that only low risk donor populations are targeted for blood donations,” recommends the study.

Some facts

594 study participants

14.1 per cent overall prevalence of infections

5.6 per cent for hepatitis B

3.5 per cent HIV

 3.2 per cent for hepatitis C

1.2 per cent for syphilis

0.7 per cent for malaria

Married donors more likely positive for HIV, syphilis

About Gatonye Gathura 39 Articles
Science Journalist