Ambassador Godec’s Remarks for World Blood Donor Day

Your Excellency, Margaret Kenyatta,
First Lady of the Republic of Kenya;
Honorable James Macharia,
Cabinet Secretary for Health;
distinguished guests;
ladies and gentlemen.

Hamjambo!  Habari zenu!  Thank you for inviting me to participate in World Blood Donor Day.  I want to thank the Ministry of Health, the National Blood Transfusion Service, and all the organizers for making this event possible.

Blood donation is one of the great miracles of modern medicine.  Along with antibiotics and anesthetics, our ability to transfuse blood safely has saved countless lives worldwide.  Such are the advances of science that perhaps giving blood now seems mundane, but we should pause to reflect that there are literally tens of millions of people alive today because of blood donation.  Think about that: tens of millions of people living their lives because individuals were willing to donate blood selflessly for a complete stranger.

There would be many fewer miracles of medical science without a ready supply of safe, tested blood.  Today, we give our heartfelt thanks to all who have donated blood – because every time you donate blood, you are saving a life.  The life of a child.  The life of a mother.  The life of a neighbor.  Donating blood is more than just an act of community service.  It is an act of humanity, an act of selfless giving.  It is an act of heroism.

Last February, I had the opportunity to participate with HE First Lady Margaret Kenyatta in the launch of the Valentine’s Day Blood Drive.  As I said then, I am a committed supporter of the First Lady’s “Beyond Zero” campaign, whose goal is to reduce the number of preventable maternal and child deaths in Kenya.  This goal is commendable and achievable.  My government strongly supports it.

We should remember that mothers and newborn children are the first beneficiaries of a safe, reliable supply of blood.  One of the most common causes of maternal death is blood loss during childbirth.  Indeed, the first successful blood transfusion, in 1829, took place as Dr. James Blundell worked to save a young woman’s life during childbirth.  With a reliable supply of blood, adequate facilities, and well-trained staff, much can be done to save the lives of mothers.  The U.S. government, the Government of Kenya, and many other partners are working tirelessly to improve outcomes and to truly get us “beyond zero.”

What makes blood donation unique is that almost any citizen can make a contribution.  It is an extraordinarily precious gift, it is not difficult to give, and it could mean the whole world to a mother who suddenly experiences complications in delivery, or to a child suffering complications from malaria.

My hope is that one day – soon – Kenya will have as safe and sufficient a supply of blood as we enjoy in the United States.  My hope is that soon Kenyans will not have to go to hospital worrying whether they have enough family members on hand to donate blood for their loved ones.  One of the ways the U.S. government has contributed to this vision is technical assistance to create systems that support safe blood transfusion.  Through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – known as PEPFAR – we have helped build systems here in Kenya to keep blood products safe from HIV and other blood -borne diseases like hepatitis.  We also work to ensure that those who give blood can do so in a safe environment, with safe equipment.

Something else the U.S. government does, through PEPFAR, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, is to try to increase the number of blood donors.  There are an impressive number of blood donor clubs here, whose members have made great efforts to encourage Kenyans to become blood donors.

Kenya and its partners have made great strides in addressing the need for increased blood donation.  In 2004, when the PEPFAR program began, Kenya collected only 37,000 units of blood.  In 2013, over 160,000 units of blood were collected; that’s a four and half fold increase.  It is an impressive achievement, but still short of the goal in Kenya of at least 400,000 units of blood every year.  What Kenya needs now are volunteers who donate their blood for someone they may not know; and who donate regularly.  This is what Kenya needs.

The United States has been a strong and steadfast partner to Kenya for 50 years.  Our commitment to help Kenya to improve its health care system will continue in blood donation, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, health care capacity building, and many, many other areas.

I would like to thank everyone who has partnered with the United States in our support of the government and people of Kenya. And I especially thank the First Lady for her leadership towards a healthier, happier, and safer Kenya.

Most importantly, I also thank those of you who donate blood.  Today is your day.  You are giving a selfless gift.  You are helping modern medicine bring life to someone in need.

Thank you.  Asanteni Sana.