Blood banks running on low reserves, seek urgent help

Sticky situation: Shortage in blood supply affect patients requiring dialysis and those with blood disorders. File   | Photo Credit: S.R. Raghunathan

Pushed against the wall, hospitals across India have now started contacting individual blood donors to tide over the acute shortage of blood that most of them are facing with the continued lockdown due to COVID-19.

Added to this is the confirmation from the Union Health Ministry that it was receiving several complaints over calls, and Twitter and other social media, on the denial of treatment to patients suffering from critical ailments other than COVID-19.

Worst hit

“The worst hit are patients requiring dialysis, having blood disorders, and pregnant women. We are now dipping very deep into our reserves and will find it very tough to carry on operations if we urgently don’t receive adequate blood supply. Now the crisis is such that we are calling listed donors and those with rare blood groups to come in and donate. Also, there is a shortage of the most commonly seen B-positive blood group,” said Himanshu Lamba, Consultant, Department of Lab Transfusion Medicine, Manipal Hospital in Dwarka.

He added that hospitals are either calling donors personally or contacting them through SMS and even offering to arrange transport for them if they were finding it tough to come to the medical centres.

Thalassemics fearful

Thalassemics India, an NGO working for patients, has now requested the Health Ministry to help tide over the shortage. “Thalassemia patients need repeated blood transfusions to survive. Patients fear that the coming times could be difficult for them. Indian Red Cross Society Blood Bank camps are being cancelled. More than 900 thalassemics take blood for their transfusions from them. What is the government planning to do now?” asked a worried Shobha Tuli of Thalassemics India.

She explained that donors were hesitant to travel to hospitals now to donate blood, and medical supplies were not delivered countrywide by her organisation due to the lockdown, which meant that patients with low immunity could be at risk. Also, donor passes had not been made by some hospitals, which was adding to the problem.

The organisation has suggested that the States should also try and arrange transportation to donors, and even patients, if possible, to come to medical centres. The group has noted that the worst hit are patients from small cities and villages.

‘Under control’

R. K. Jain, Secretary General, Indian Red Cross Society Blood Bank, speaking to The Hindu noted, “As of now, the situation is under control though there have been sporadic spikes in demand. Regular surgeries are not taking place, which has reduced the demand [for blood] drastically, but we are operating a 24X7 control room for donors and those needing blood to ensure that there is no shortage. We have also introduced pick-drop facilities and have allowed patients, especially those with blood disorders, to bring in friends and relatives who can replenish the blood taken from us. Though Red Zones in Delhi are growing and access to the set of donors here is now getting cut-off, we have 38,000 registered donors in Delhi itself and we feel that this should see us through for the time being. We may look at other options later on.”

To ensure that the blood taken is virus-free, Dr. Vanshree Singh, Director, Indian Red Cross Society Blood Bank, said a detailed history is taken of the donor and those with any flu-like symptoms are not allowed to donate. “We also look at the contact history and which zone they come from to eliminate any contamination,” she said.

‘Stock blood’

The Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan, speaking about the shortage of blood, said that hospitals should now start working on ensuring sufficient stock of blood for transfusion by promoting voluntary blood donors and utilising various services like mobile blood collection vans with the help of the Indian Red Cross Society.

The Health Ministry has asked the Indian Red Cross Society to send mobile blood collection vans to the premises of regular blood donors to facilitate them to come forward for blood donation.

According to the National Blood Transfusion Council, there are 2,023 blood banks in India, which receive 78% of their blood supply from voluntary donors. The Indian Red Cross Society has noted that though there is drop in blood collection, efforts are underway to rectify the situation.

The World Health Organization recommends that the blood requirement of 1% of a country’s population be used as a ballpark estimate of its blood needs. By this measure, India was short of 1.9 million units of blood as per data presented to the Lok Sabha in 2018.

Turned away

But the problem is not restricted to the supply of blood alone, with the Union Health Ministry having to intervene and ask hospitals to not turn away patients suffering from respiratory or heart diseases, those who require blood transfusions, and pregnant mothers, who have reportedly been facing harassment.

While hospitals are citing the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases as the reason they are advising other patients to stay away from hospitals, the Health Minister noted that the denial of treatment to patients who have been visiting hospitals in case of emergencies, and are being forced to visit a number of hospitals one after another, resulting in the denial of immediate medical attention, which may result in the loss of lives, is being taken up very seriously.

“Hospitals have to remember that patients who are really ill and require urgent medical attention are venturing out with great difficulty to reach the hospital for treatment in this situation. We should not turn them away on any kind of flimsy pretexts as certain procedures like blood transfusion, dialysis etc. can’t wait,’’ said Dr. Vardhan.

The Ministry has now directed hospitals to use tele-consultation, digital prescription and home delivery of medicines.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 3:25:51 PM |

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