India’s blood shortage crisis is no alien to headlines. Now with a corona virus fear, blood banks in the country are going to face even tougher times ahead. Despite the massive burden of trauma and surgeries in the current situation, several hospitals in almost all states and union territories have been struggling to meet the daily requirements of blood in the past few weeks.
This disruption has impacted availability of blood for emergency surgeries, postpartum hemorrhage cases, thalassemia, sickle-cell disease, and cancer patients.
In India, blood donations have dramatically reduced due to the implementation of social distancing, cancellation of various blood drives and low donor turnout due to fears associated with catching infection from public places such as hospitals and blood banks.
The government needs to build more awareness on the compliance of safety protocols being followed by all blood banks and collection centres to instill confidence in public on voluntary blood donation in these uncertain times. In addition, support needs to be extended for easy as well as safe movement of donors and supply chain of critical materials and equipment used in blood and component collection.
The National Blood Transfusion Council’s (NBTC) interim guidelines issued on 25 March 2020, emphasizes on continuity of supply of safe blood and recommends resuming both outdoor and in-house donation, in compliance with social distancing standards, biomedical-waste disposal rules and infection control guidelines. Guidelines state that people are at no risk of developing COVID-19 through the blood transfusion or via a blood donation procedure.
The lockdowns this year have restricted movement of people, so regular donors living far from a hospital or blood bank are unable to donate and finding new donors in nearby areas has become a huge challenge. All though people are afraid of attending camps and blood centers due to COVID-19, even then many donors are coming forward to save the life of those who need blood every month to survive.
Need of blood has also raised and this is a tough time when we have to weigh between the need of blood and fear of CORONA. Public is learning to live with CORONA, taking precautions, should also start voluntary donation as this is the need of time. This will require strong IEC.
Presently, India’s blood transfusion system (BTS) is extremely uneven, with almost no interlinkages. In absence of interaction and connectivity between blood banks, there is ineffective supervision of demand as well as supply in terms of accessibility and value of blood. Most of these issues in Indian blood system preexist due to low significance given to blood in our healthcare system, absence of a regulatory structure and insufficient financing in the BTS related infrastructure, although we already have a National Blood Policy of 2002, a devoted national blood legislation, which is completely absent.
Availability, Affordability, and Safety are the pillars that we need to make India’s blood system effective. In order to address these pillars and as suggested by World Health Organization (WHO), it is imperative for all actions related to blood collection, testing, processing, storage and distribution to be synchronized at a national level.
India’s massive trauma and surgical burden, high occurrence of blood disorders and communicable diseases linked with excessive Postpartum Hemorrhage (PPH) related deaths, imply that a well-operating blood system is the need of the hour and should be a top priority of our healthcare policy.
The timely availability of safe and quality blood is often a decisive factor in saving human life. An insufficient or unsafe blood supply for transfusion has a negative impact on the effectiveness of key health services and programs to provide appropriate patient care in numerous acute and chronic conditions.
In spite of the fact that Do’s and Don’ts needed are sent to blood banks and donor organizers to make sure that donors and staff remain safe, due to fear of corona virus, people are not coming to blood banks or holding camps to donate blood.
Also due to restrictions of movement through the government besides the donors even the staff finds it difficult to reach the workplace. There is a need to provide special transport for donors and staff. The supplies of consumables and reagents required for collection and testing of blood are likely to face shortages if transport is not easily available.
The value of blood in any healthcare system cannot be weakened. To preserve India from the worldwide surgery blood drought, it is imperative for blood sufficiency, safety, and sustainability to become sacrosanct in India’s healthcare system.
The author is Additional Mission Director at National Health Mission, Uttar Pradesh.
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