Even as the fear of dengue refuses to die down, questions are being raised about the availability of sufficient facilities to store and retrieve blood components.

Private practitioners want the government to address the issue of access to blood components, an essential treatment modality for dengue. Treatment for dengue involves transfusion of blood platelets.

A former dean of a government hospital said stringent rules for setting up blood banks were a hindrance to accessing components like platelets in an emergency.

Drug control authorities and those involved in ensuring blood safety said the licence for setting up higher facilities will hinge on adhering to the norms. While some blood banks can store only whole blood, others have component separators that separate blood into four components – red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma and platelets. Whole blood can be stored for 21 days whereas plasma can be stored for over a year. The shelf-life for platelets is only five days.

The blood bank in Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital has installed a cell separator which allows for a process called apheresis where blood is drawn from a donor and after separating plasma or platelets or leucocytes, re-transfused. This is very sophisticated equipment, requiring careful maintenance .The more the sophistication, the more is the cost of maintenance of the facility. Setting up a blood bank or any of these high-end facilities requires several rounds of inspection by authorised Central and State government agencies, including the drug controller and experts in transfusion medicine. The licensing authority is the union health ministry.

While a bank to store whole blood can cost Rs. 50 lakh, component separators may cost Rs. 1 crore. The components must be maintained at a certain temperature and stringent safety procedures must be followed to prevent spread of infections. Licence to establish a blood bank is provided under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940.

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