Meet the chatbot that helps you donate blood

An Indo-Danish start-up wants to improve Mumbai’s blood shortage — and then the world’s — using artificial intelligence and machine learning

Published - November 24, 2017 12:48 am IST - Mumbai

Joining hands: The Indian and Danish core team of BloodLink pose with Dr. Narinder Kaur Naidu of Red Cross India (green sari) at an event in Mumbai in recently.

Joining hands: The Indian and Danish core team of BloodLink pose with Dr. Narinder Kaur Naidu of Red Cross India (green sari) at an event in Mumbai in recently.

When Amit Lohiya’s father was having a kidney transplant and needed a blood transfusion, he found himself looking for replacement donors. That is, find people willing to donate blood to ‘repay’ the blood bank for the units his dad needed. This wasn’t easy, especially when he was tense about his father’s condition.

Mr. Lohiya’s case isn’t unusual. Despite Maharashtra’s State Blood Transfusion Council (SBTC) mandating that the practice be stopped and telling blood banks that they should achieve their targets through voluntary donations, families find themselves in similar situations, desperately reaching out to friends, social networks, strangers, often at very short notice. What is unusual is that his personal experience inspired Mr. Lohiya to create a solution.

For eight years, Mr. Lohiya, who is an electronics engineer, had worked in high-tech projects in the Netherlands and UK, and as a consultant in Denmark. In 2016, he quit his job and set up BloodLink as a social enterprise in Copenhagen. In June 2016, the company won a place at the think-tank Thinkubator in Copenhagen. By the end of the year, BloodLink come to India to do its first costumer research. It had also applied to the Danish Innovation Fund, and secured funding in December 2016.

The core aim of BloodLink is to create a platform to connect donors with blood banks and hospitals — and blood banks and hospitals with each other — to minimise blood wastage. In larger terms, the goal is to eliminate blood shortages worldwide.

He decided to test the company’s strategy first in Mumbai, where he grew up and got his engineering degree, and which is also where he faced the problem of getting blood for his father. Inicidentally, he had been unable to donate blood when he wanted to in Denmark, because he is not familiar enough with Danish.

In Mumbai, blood banks are recovering from a shortage they faced in 2016. The city also faces a seasonal fluctuation: in April and May, when school vacations are on, and in October, around the time of Diwali holidays, donations drop, says Dr. Arun Thorat, Additional Director of the State Blood Transfusion Council. Dr Narinder Naidu from the Red Cross India (RCI) blood ban says that holidays see a drop in donors. And in the city, donating blood has never quite caught on: according to the Federation of Bombay Blood Banks, an NGO formed by 48 blood banks in the city, 70% of Mumbai’s population has never donated blood.

What hampers blood donation in India is that most donations are need-based; the cycle of voluntary donors who walk up to a hospital and give blood every three months does not exist. Hospitals hamper the building of such a culture by making the donor wait, or asking them to return the next day. Experts say that donors should get priority treatment. Having an easy in-and-out process would keep them motivated to donate.

Mr. Lohiya says that a study that BloodLink has done tells him that more people would donate of it fitted their lives. So, his tech team created a test chatbot to work within Facebook, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to communicate with users; that is, it has some answers to specific questions ready, and also learns as more users adopt it. The team chose Facebook as a platform because young city-dwellers already spend several hours using it every day. Readers can try the app by going to BloodLink’s Facebook page,, and clicking on the ‘Get started’ button. (The bot will be available until December 1.)

The BloodLink bot informs users of needs for blood close to them, and helps them make an appointment to donate.The bot also replies to basic questions potential donors may have — what is blood made of? how often can I donate? — and debunks myths about donations. And it has a social aspect too: users can chat with regular donors or even consult a doctor about blood donation.

Nine blood banks — state-owned and private — have signed up for the pilot project, which was launched in November and will run until the end of the month. During the first weeks, around 70 people were using the service, and a few even donated blood, “It was pretty easy and took me about three minutes”, says Shreyansh Surena, a 22-year-old data analyst, who was the first donor on BloodLink. “I would use the platform again, because it saves time and I can do something good.”

Vinay Shetty, vice-president of Think Foundation, which organises donation camps, thinks that BloodLink is a good idea because “It motivates people to donate voluntarily.” Donors who are brought in by friends during an emergency are not always usable, because they may have restrictions due to medication, alcohol use and medical records, but are there because relatives put pressure on them. Mr. Shetty says that there are other similar services, but they stop at informing potential donors when blood is needed (as does a recently launched native Facebook feature), which limits them.

BloodLink will use the learning from the test phase to tweak the software and then launch a stand-alone app, at first in Mumbai, in the first quarter of 2018, and then expanding to other parts of India and the world. Though initial funding has come from incubators and grants, BloodLink wants to be self-sustaining. It plans to earn revenue by charging participating blood banks and hospitals a fee. The service to donors will remain free.


Founder: Amit Lohiya

Founded : 2016

Funding : Danish Innovation Fund, Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design CIID, and awards

Employees: 7

Website : or visit

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