HARNESSING TECHNOILOGY TO SOLVE KENYA’S BLOOD CRISIS AND SAVE LIVES
By Chris Captain Omondi
Aisha Dafalla recalls an incident in 1981 when a school mate called her in the night desperately seeking blood for a brother who was in critical condition in hospital. By the next morning, the patient had suffered two heart attacks and eventually passed on. “That incident made me realize that blood should be available in the hospitals and we should not wait until a patient requires blood to start making appeals. It may be too late to save a life.”
To date, Aisha has donated blood 67 times and in February 2021 was appointed Kenya’s Blood Ambassador by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and she is at the forefront of a campaign to encourage Kenyans to donate blood.
Aisha Dafalla, Kenya Blood Ambassadour
Every ten minutes, someone needs blood transfusion in Kenya, while the country requires about 500,000 units of blood annually. Less than 40 percent of the blood required is in storage and some of it is lost to wastage and expiry.
Perpetua Asuko, the Chief Laboratory Technician in charge of blood transfusion services at Kenyatta National Hospital says the facility requires between 80 and 100 units of blood daily but at the best of times they would only have half that amount in storage.
“There is no substitute for blood,” says Dr Nduku Kilonzo, Head of the National Blood Transfusion Service. “It means that patients don’t have to be asked to bring relatives to donate blood because there is already blood available in the banks.”
Technology and innovation could provide the answer to Kenya’s blood crisis. A group of young Kenyans have developed a mobile application called “Damu Sasa” (Blood Now!) which has transformed the management of blood services in the country and saved lives of many patients.
“A patient should get blood now, not tomorrow. Blood should be available when and where a patient needs it,” says Aaron Ogunde, team leader at Damu Sasa.
He says that instead of blanket appeals that people make on social media, there is now a specific platform that you can access whenever seeking blood for a patient.
“If you are looking for B-positive, for example, the App is able to filter which donors are B-positive who are eligible at that given time. That way, you have a targeted appeal leading to improved success rate in tracing donors,” says Ogunde.
Aaron Ogunde, the Kenyan innovator who developed Damu Sasa App.
“Every unit of blood can save up to four lives. Damu Sasa has helped facilitate access to safe blood products to over 10,000 patients.
This innovation was inspired by the blood crisis witnessed in the major hospitals in Nairobi during the West Gate terror attack in 2013. “Nairobi was facing a crisis of blood at the city’s hospitals, yet there were blood banks in other towns that were fully stocked but not accessible,” explains Ogunde. “We wanted to come up with a way in which you could donate blood in Machakos, Makueni, or even Nakuru and that blood is visible to all players in the ecosystem.”
During the Dusit terror attack that occurred in January 2019, using the Damu Sasa technology, Kenyatta National Hospital mobilized over 1500 people to donate blood within a click of a button. “This is the impact of technology when it is given room, space and supported to solve some of the perennial challenges that we face as a country,” says Ogunde. He concludes by say, “Damu Sasa is a story to tell.