Background: During the past decade, developing countries have received limited support for blood safety programmes. The Kenya Ministry of Health did a collaborative multicentre assessment to establish the risk of HIV transmission by transfusion in Kenya, to promote awareness of blood safety issues in this country with a mature HIV epidemic, and to identify methods to reduce the risk of HIV transmission by blood transfusion in Kenya.
Methods: For 12 weeks, from April to July 1994, we collected information and blood samples from all blood donors, and pretransfusion samples were collected from all recipients in six government hospitals in Kenya. Blood donations were collected and screened for HIV according to standard practice in the hospital laboratories. Test results at a reference laboratory were compared with those of the hospital laboratories and risk of transfusion-associated HIV transmission was calculated.
Findings: The prevalence of HIV among blood donors was 6.4% (120 of 1877) and varied by hospital (range 2-20%). HIV test results were available for 1290 donor-recipient pairs. Of these, 26 HIV-positive donations were given to HIV-negative patients. We estimate that 2.0% of transfusions transmitted HIV. Problems in the hospitals that contributed to transfusion risk included inconsistent refrigeration, data entry errors, equipment failure, and lack of a quality-assurance programme.
Interpretation: A high proportion of blood transfusions transmitted HIV in this high-prevalence area of Africa, primarily because of erroneous laboratory practices. On the basis of these results, the Kenya Ministry of Health introduced a number of practical and inexpensive interventions to improve national blood safety.