Robert F. Godec remarks for the launch of the Valentine’s Day Blood Drive and Mobile Donation Unit Kenya International Conference Center

Your Excellency, Margaret Kenyatta, first lady of the Republic of Kenya; Dr. Evans Kidero, Governor of Nairobi; and other distinguished guests:

Good morning!  Habari Zenu.  Thank you for inviting me to participate in this important occasion to highlight the need for blood donation in Kenya.  I want to thank the Ministry of Health and all of the organizers for making this event possible.

I would particularly like to acknowledge First Lady Margaret Kenyatta for her leadership in championing many important health issues in Kenya.  I know you will all agree with me that the First Lady is doing extraordinary work.  Although it is not why we are here today, I particularly want to congratulate the First Lady on the launch of her “Beyond Zero” campaign to reduce preventable maternal and child deaths.  It is a wonderful initiative and the “Beyond Zero” half marathon planned for March 9th is, I believe, a great idea.  As an avid marathoner myself, I had very much hoped to run with her.  Unfortunately, on that day, I must be in Washington so I can’t.  But, I’d like to make three pledges.  First, I will register even if I cannot run to signal my support.  Second, a US Embassy team will run the race… we are actively recruiting our participants right now.  We will be there with you.  And, finally, although I can’t do it on the day, I will run a half marathon distance on another day in support and in honor of “Beyond Zero.” Know, too, your Excellency, that I will be with you and all runners in spirit… on the day!  Good luck!

Let me turn now to the reason we are here today.  The United States has long recognized the critical importance of a safe and sufficient blood supply.  As part of its support for HIV and AIDS programs under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – what we all know as PEPFAR – the United States has provided countries around the world with technical help to create systems that support safe blood for their people.

These efforts have helped protect those who receive a blood transfusion or other blood products to be safe from HIV, and from other blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis.

Safe blood is critical for all Kenyans, most of all for the vulnerable.  Mothers giving birth may need blood transfusions due to blood loss during childbirth.  Young children suffering from malaria may need transfusions to help them recover from anemia.  And victims of road traffic accidents may need blood after a major injury.

As a result, the quality of our blood safety and donation programs is of great importance.  To maintain a safe and sufficient blood supply, Kenya must ensure it uses and maintains best practices in blood donation, transfusion, and storage.  Laboratories that test the safety of blood products and hospitals that use blood must likewise operate under the highest standards.

With the collaboration of partners and with PEPFAR support, Kenya has made great progress in achieving these goals and has much to celebrate.  We congratulate the National Blood Transfusion Service, the Ministry of Health, and the many partners engaged in supporting blood safety and blood donor mobilization.  Despite challenges, Kenya and its partners have come a long way.  For example, in 2004, when the PEPFAR program began, Kenya collected only 37,000 units of blood.  But in 2013, over 158,000 units of blood were collected, a four and half fold increase.  The hard work of those who made this happen is clear and all responsible have earned our thanks.  While the progress that has been made is good news, there remain challenges ahead for Kenya.

One of these challenges will be to bring blood services in the country in line with the new devolved system of health care while ensuring equity and access for all citizens.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control here in Kenya has worked closely with the National Blood Transfusion Service and the Ministry of Health to ensure in all counties a safe and sufficient blood supply, as well as access to emergency health care. 

A second challenge is funding.  Currently, PEPFAR is the primary funder for blood services in Kenya.  Going forward, it will be important to diversify the sources of funding for blood services to ensure a strong and sustainable financing system for the future.   In this regard, I am encouraged to learn of the number of public and private partners who supported the mobile blood donation unit.

Lastly, due to the shortage of blood, hospitals have resorted to asking family members to donate for those needing blood in less than ideal conditions.  This blood is not tested in the recommended manner, and thus may risk transmission of HIV or hepatitis to the recipient.

However, we know Kenya is up to these challenges, and this mobile donation unit is a great example of how Kenya is meeting them.  The United States, through CDC and PEPFAR, will continue to support Kenya in increasing blood safety for the Kenyan people.  We have 50 years of partnership in so many areas, and our commitment to help Kenya improve its health system will continue.

Again, we thank all of you who have partnered with the United States in our support of the government of Kenya in working toward a safe and sufficient blood supply.  And, we especially thank the First Lady for her leadership in achieving a safer, healthier Kenya.

Thank you for attending today.

Asanteni Sana.