Study shows donated blood in Kenya highly tainted with HIV, syphilis

By Gatonye Gathura

The national blood service is livid over reports indicating blood they collect from Kenyans is highly contaminated with HIV and syphilis.

Reports published three weeks ago in a foreign journal shows blood donated to the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service (KNBTS) has high levels of HIV and syphilis.

The study authors who had official access to KNBTS data had analyzed part of the blood donated to the service from 32 out of 47 counties last year.

In their report published in the journal of Blood Disorders and Transfusion of India, the authors report 6.2 per cent of the blood donated nationally to be contaminated with HIV but as high as 15 per cent in some counties.

It also showed significant contamination of donated blood with hepatitis, and syphilis, raising questions over the health of volunteers who are mainly school children. It also raises questions of how much of contaminated blood is being transfused to patients.

In a written response to our enquiries over the publication Dr Margret Oduor, the director KNBTS called the report alarmist and sensational.

“This research was not sanctioned by the KNBTS and therefore we disown the content of the article in its entirety,” said Dr Oduor after reviewing the paper.

She said the annual levels of HIV in donated stood at only 0.5 per cent but not the published 6.2 per cent.

“The authors could be having other interests unknown to us,” said Dr Oduor while indicating contamination with syphilis is at 0.4 per cent but not the indicated one per cent.

Hours after we inquired about the report, two of the study authors had disowned the report, all had agreed to have it withdrawn with two insisting their findings are accurate.

Dr Oduor explains the bank had genuinely allowed the authors, most employers of mHealth Kenya Limited access to the personal data of its 20,230 donors.

The company was to help the blood bank organize their donors better through an initiative called Text4Life funded by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our work was to help the blood bank to utilize a mobile phone platform in communicating with its donors countrywide,” explained Dr Cathy Mwangi, CEO mHealth Kenya Limited.

Now Dr Oduor is angry that employees of mHealth, three of them among the four study authors may have used the data illegally and published erroneous report without KNBTS consent.

“I stand by the results we published as a true reflection of the quality of donated blood to KNBTS within the study period,” lead author Gerald Mahuro, a former employee of mHealth Kenya Limited told the Standard on Saturday.

In the report the authors indicate to have sought and got permission from the blood bank to publish.

“The authors, being an employee of mHealth Kenya Limited, there was informed consent for use of the data from KNBTS for use in publication,” says the poorly edited paper.

But by Saturday afternoon the authors had written to the journal editor requesting temporally withdrawal of the paper largely because it had been submitted unprocedurally.

Two of them, Dr Mwangi (not a medical doctor) and her employee N. Kipkorir said they had been included as co-authors without their input or consent.

“Mahuro published with data that he fraudulently retained upon his dismissal from employment,” Dr Mwangi wrote to the journal editor.

Mahuro told the Standard he stood with the accuracy of his data but said publishing protocol may not have been followed.

The fourth author and the most qualified on the subject matter, Prof Peter Gichangi of the University of Nairobi said the data as presented in their paper was plausible.

Prof Gichangi is also the Country Director at International Centre for Reproductive Health Kenya (ICRHK) which is affiliated to Ghent University of Belgium.

He is also at the center of another controversy where the University of Manchester in the UK is tussling with Kenyatta National Hospital over the ownership of a cervical cancer treatment developed in Kenya.

But this is not the only independent study to indicate high rates of infectious agents in donated blood in Kenya.

A study published last year by a team led by Magdaline Wairimu Kamande of Kenya Methodist University showed 5.2 per cent of blood donated at the bank’s Nyeri centre to be contaminated with HIV.

Kamande’s study appearing in the IOSR Journal of Pharmacy is indicated to have been approved for publication by KNBTS.

An audit of KNBTS laboratories involving Dr Oduor and published in April shows the agency performing poorly on safety issues. In a rating of One to Five stars KNBTS laboratories could only manage three stars.

Dr Odour however has assured Kenyans that unlike implied in the new study the service has effective donor prescreening systems and that all transfused blood is completely safe.

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