Digital blood collection improves country’s banks

Monday, November 15th, 2021 00:00 |
Jackline Maipuru at her place of work in Luthuli Avenue in Nairobi during the interview. By Kenna CLAUDE

Tucked in a corner at the former Ramogi Studios on Luthuli Avenue in the hustle and bustle of downtown Nairobi are several electronic shops. In one of those shops that sells mobile phones and accessories, Jackline Maipuru, a mother of two, sits on a high stool attending to customers in their droves.

One cannot imagine, Jackline had just graduated from an operation room recently where she went through a surgery to remove the life threatening fibroids - abnormal growths that develop in or on a woman's uterus.

She had lived with the condition for three years without proper knowledge of what she was ailing from until last year when she was diagnosed at Kenyatta National Hospital.

“I was only being given drugs to control hormones,” she told our reporter when they caught up with her at the shop explaining that the hospital encouraged her to ensure she undergoes the surgery if she hoped to resume her normal activities.

However, the challenge she said, was her blood hemoglobin (HB) deficiency.

“A woman's normal HB status should be around 12.5 grams, but mine was just 3 grams and couldn't be operated,” she said.

For a year, she queued for surgery to remove the tumors because of lack of a special B-negative blood group, a rare one.

"I visited several clinics, but I was told to build my hemoglobin until it reaches 10 grams is when I could be operated on. This forced me to wait for up to one year through theatre visits in order to attain that threshold, but when I am about I could start bleeding, and lose a lot of blood in the process,” she said.

At some point it even went lower to 2 grams, and was advised to be transfused but she declined, preferring to build it herself by eating fruits and a balanced diet. However, since it was an emergency she did not have many options but to be transfused.

Relatives and friends, she said, donated a lot of blood, but since it was a special type of blood group, it was not possible.

“My donor is a rare one, and this forced me to create so many whatsapp groups through which I could appeal for blood, but most of them were not marching with my group. I got two or three good samaritans, but it was not enough,” she said.

But one day lady luck knocked, and a friend saw it in one of the Whatsapp groups and contacted her.

“The friend told me about LifeBank International. In a day and a half I got the blood which was delivered to the hospital,” she said thanking LifeBank, a real time logistics company.

Within a day she had been transfused with about four pints, and within a few days she left the theatre. “I thank LifeBank for what they did for me," she said noting that the company even made followed up with her to check on how she was doing and always sent her get-well messages 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service (KNBTS) could not be able to equip hospitals and other health facilities with blood supplies and had to find innovative ways of mobilizing blood donors.

Data at the Ministry of Health shows that KNBTS used to collect about 450 pints of blood every day, with the onset of COVID-19 in the country though, the situation changed, and this has dropped by between 70 and 80 percent.

However, LifeBank came in at an opportune time in May 2021 to partner with the Nairobi Metropolitan Services and KNBTS in a major blood drive during the launch of a Smart Blood Collection Center at Mama Lucy Hospital in Embakasi East Subcounty.

According to the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Philip Nyabera, the Smart Bank uses technology to provide easy access and real-time availability of blood and is able to collect 10 units of blood daily.

“The smart center is doing a great job, as we used to send the patient's family for blood donations, but now the blood is easily sourced,” Nyabera said.

LifeBank is a medical supply chain company that uses data, smart logistics and technology to improve the affordability, accessibility and availability of critical medical products such as blood, oxygen and vaccines across Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia.

“LifeBank uses a Multi-Modal Delivery Network to deliver critical supplies with bikes, boats, trucks, tricycles, and drones faster, cheaper, and safer,” Nyabera told People Daily recently after the launch of the Smart Blood Collection Center at Mama Lucy Hospital.

The second such public blood collection facility in Kenya apart from the Blood Transfusion Unit at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), the centre, Nyabera said aims to meet the monthly demands at the facility that is between 400-500 units of blood.

“What we do is to close the gap between the demand for blood and hospitals with patients who are in urgent need of blood. We built the blood bank at Mama Lucy to enhance universal access for patients and be of service to the Nation,” explained Nyabera.

Before setting up the centre, the only mode of blood donation was through family replacements. This meant that the patient’s relatives would walk to KNBTS at KNH to donate blood for transfusion.

“But from experience, and what we have seen, this was not going to be sustainable. Most of the relatives are either unable to manage the hustles of travel in public transport, or they simply cannot afford fare coming to the facility and back home,” he said.

Jackline also shared the same sentiments that even if most of her relatives and friends donated blood, it could either not march or the distance and cost to the hospital was prohibitive.

Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital required 480 pints per month to meet the essential transfusion threshold, but could only manage to get 50 percent.

“With the launch of SmartBank we have seen a considerable improvement in the number of lives saved and we currently do not have any blood-related deaths due to the ease of access and accessibility to blood and its products,” Nyabera noted.

LifeBank has partnered with KNBTS in 8 major blood drives with other Pop-up drives to supplement the national reserves.

“This has been actualized through community mobilization and outreaches in the community that has made it easier for the population to donate and save lives close to their homes,” he said.

LifeBank currently works with 61 hospitals with the number growing by day.

It is estimated that in every 10 minutes about seven Kenyans need blood.

Blood shortages are a critical issue in Kenya. In 2019, the KNBTS collected only 16 percent of the 1 million units the country needed.

Global health experts believe that one of the reasons behind this shortage is the absence of a culture of donating blood in the country; another is funding gaps.

“However, through technology, LifeBank builds tools to organise its distribution system using deep tech like AI and Blockchain, deploying with accessible tools like USSD, and SMS systems to ensure universal access,” he explained.

Other attributes about LifeBank includes the inspiration it creates among voluntary blood donors; gathers inventory from oxygen manufacturers, blood banks and other supplier partners across the country to facilitate the safe and rapid transportation of the medical supplies to hospitals.

“This modal discovers all critical supplies on our platform in just 5 minutes. We deliver the order to the hospital in less than 45 minutes,” he said.

The company moves blood in a World Health Organisation (WHO) -recommended cold chain system at a 10°C threshold for up to 36 hours. “Our use of temperature strips, fail-proof blood boxes, and Bluetooth padlocks ensure the security of your products. We transport oxygen in safety-compliant vehicles designed to preserve the oxygen and prevent a fire outbreak,” Nyabera further explained.

In November 2020, LifeBank partnered further with the NMS to transport Covid -19 samples during a mass testing exercise. It offered the logistics for three testing facilities in the Dagoretti south constituency and provided test kits to the facilities, fumigation gear and collected the samples for testing.

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