Fighting Blood Shortages in Kenya

by Maeve Halpin
Wednesday, 4 November 2020 21:13 GMT

TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono legal service, connects high-impact NGOs and social enterprises working to create social and environmental change with the best law firms and corporate legal teams to provide them with free legal assistance.

This project was nominated for the TrustLaw Impact Award, which recognises projects that demonstrate significant, wide-ranging impact on the NGO or social enterprise and their community - and beyond.

Blood shortages are a critical issue in Kenya. In 2019, the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service collected only 16% of the 1 million units the country needed. Global health experts believe that one of the reasons behind this shortage is the absence of a culture of donating blood in the country; another is funding gaps. Last year the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) cut its support to the country’s blood services, which provided the majority of its financing, leaving the nation unprepared to plug the gap.

Sisu Global Health, a US-based social enterprise, envisions a world where medical technology enables access to healthcare in every community. They developed an autotransfusion device called Hemafuse, which can salvage and recycle a patient’s blood from internal bleeding, without relying on blood donation. In order to roll out this device in under-resourced communities, the social enterprise needed legal advice on trademarking their company name and the product.

Through TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono legal service, they were connected with two leading law firms - CFL Advocates based in Kenya and Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton in the United States - for free legal support.

“The impact of trademarking our company name and product will be tremendous. Pro bono is extremely valuable to Sisu Global Health. As a startup, we have to be cautious and prioritise our expenses. In addition to saving money, TrustLaw has been a huge asset to our company as they have saved us time by connecting us to law firms who are experts on trademarking and have taken the guesswork out of filing the applications ourselves,” said Sisu Global Health.

“It has been a wonderful experience [working with Sisu Global Health] so far. We have come to understand their vision and desired impact, and from that, we have been able to tailor our advice to their needs,” said Lorna Mbatia, Partner with CFL Advocates.

In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the African continent, parts of Kenya went into lockdown, exacerbating an already precarious situation: large scale blood drives couldn’t take place, and fear of contracting the coronavirus kept citizens away from health facilities.

While Kenya was struggling with blood shortages during the pandemic, Sisu Global Health and their product stepped in. Hemafuse is now used in ten different hospitals across Kenya and covered by the National Health Insurance Fund, which is the medical insurance provider most low-income people in the country have.

“The Hemafuse’s impact could not be more crucial at a time like this when a pandemic persists,” said Shalom Ndiku, Legal Programme Manager at TrustLaw.

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