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Kenya investigates illegal selling of blood to Somalia amid acute shortage

By Abuga Makori in Nairobi , Garowe Online

NAIROBI, Kenya - Director of Criminal Investigations [DCI] is investigating illegal exportation of blood to Somalia, Kenya's health minister Mutahi Kagwe said on Thursday, amid an acute shortage in the country's reserve blood bank.

Throughout the years, thousands of Kenyans volunteer in blood donation exercises, which is subsequently stored in blood transfusion centers for further tests before usage.

But a furious Kagwe blamed the inadequate blood bank reserves on a cartel working within government, a move that could see several employees losing their jobs for engaging in "unwarranted" criminal activities.

This revelation comes amid reports that Kenya has inadequate capacity to screen and store donated blood. Usually, the blood is screened for HIV, Hepatitis among other diseases, Dr. Mercy Korir notes.

In a statement, Mr. Kagwe, who is only two weeks old in the department, said the DCI has embarked on a "serious investigation" targeting officials from Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service [KNBTS].

Preliminary investigations show that neighboring Somalia has been a beneficiary of the unscrupulous trade, which earns masterminds millions of dollars, he said.

“These cartels have been engaged in blood trade within as well as outside the country for selfish gain without any regard to women and children who are dying in hospitals as a result of this shortage," Kagwe lamented.

The unprecedented shortage exposes hundreds of people admitted to various hospitals, who are in dire need of the services. This, he said, informed the decision to invite DCI to investigate the matter.

Although the masterminds work in cohorts with rogue businessmen, the sleuths will first target those working within the ministry of health, the minister said.

“The Ministry is aware that there are criminal elements both within and outside the country who are colluding with outsiders to escalate the problems pertaining to blood countrywide,” he added.

KNBTS, which runs Kenya’s only blood bank, blames the shortage of the commodity to the withdrawal of the US government’s PEPFAR funding.

Kenya's blood bank has dropped to 164,000 points against an annual demand of one million units, making the situation an emergency that could cripple operations within the country.

Somalia has been categorized as the hub of smuggling and other illegal businesses for over three decades. The fragile UN-backed administration is struggling to stamp authority, despite a persistent threat from Al-Shabaab militants, pirates, and smugglers.

The sensational claims could further escalate tensions between the two nations, which are already facing cross-border and maritime disputes along the Indian Ocean.

So fragile has been the situation that both countries have traded barbs over skirmishes between SNA and Jubaland forces in Gedo, which spilled over to Mandera in Kenya last week.

Ahmed Isse Awad, Somalia's foreign minister, was in Nairobi on Wednesday to discuss "bilateral relations", although sources indicate that he was preparing for an anticipated visit by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo to Nairobi.

Blood shortage has already been reported in Kenya National Hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, which are the largest health facilities in Kenya.