SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Blood donors — unsung heroes

BLOOD donation as a cause, or as a "good deed" has had few takers in this country especially when compared to other notable causes like service towards senior citizens, the physically and mentally challenged, victims of cancer and so on. The reasons are numerous — myths, misconceptions, beliefs and, above all, plain and simple fear of blood donation and the pain involved during the process. In addition, there is another one, which we in the blood banking profession have realised over the years and that is — it is a completely "faceless" sort of service.

Let me explain what I mean. When a person donates blood, he does not and should not know who the beneficiary of his act of kindness has been. This, therefore, "robs" the donor of the satisfaction of knowing whom he has helped. Most people who donate blood want to know who has received blood and see for themselves the tangible benefit their blood has had on the recipient. Not very wrong really as it is a human failing/tendency to want to know the fruits of one's labour, whatever form that labour might be. As this is not permitted, except under exceptional circumstances, the donor has to be truly committed to the act of donating blood and be prepared to do this twice a year if possible, if the needs of the population are to be met. Now compare this with the other causes and you will see the difference.

Let's take a look at some of our existing statistics.<145,H> Chennai has a population of 4.2 millions and requires around 2,00,000 units of blood to take care of its needs. That means that all that we need is 1,00,000 committed people to donate blood twice a year. This seems an attainable target. However, this is far from the actual state of things. On April 7, 2001, "Dream" (Donor Recognition Empowerment Awareness Management), an initiative of Jeevan Blood Bank and Research Centre, an NGO concerned with blood safety, was launched in the hope that this target could be achieved. By April 6, 2003, every unit of blood transfused in the city of Chennai would be from a voluntary blood donor.

A donor recruitment team was appointed, awareness talks at offices, colleges, schools, apartment complexes and associations of different communities organised and, wherever possible, blood donation camps arranged. This has to be a continuous process and we have begun to see a marked improvement in the donor numbers. Headway has been made even in some of the most impenetrable organisations. Taking the couch to the donor has helped and some blood banks have been able to achieve this through their air-conditioned mobile blood collection facilities.

The response we have had from schools in particular has been overwhelming. Children are so full of idealism, optimism, enthusiasm and hope, that parents find it hard to resist their requests to donate blood. We have had extremely successful camps being organised by these school children following awareness talks held for them. We hope that in the near future, the basics of blood donation, highlighting the necessity first, and then dispelling the myths and misconceptions that surround it, be included as part of the school curriculum. This should, hopefully, give rise to a next generation of youngsters who no longer has fears about the process of donation.

Blood donors — unsung heroes

Some donors are deeply committed to donation and are willing to drop any work they might have in response to a call from any blood bank. There are some others, who do not even need to be called and we have had the fortune to come across several like these. In this connection, I must mention two such donors who make it a point to donate blood every three to four months. They ensure that they are healthy, come at the same time, donate blood and leave together — one is blind and the other is deaf, a humbling experience.

The blood that is collected has to be screened for transfusion transmissible infections and these costs together with the running costs of any organisation is what is charged to the patient. These vary between blood banks depending on the procedures followed, the testing methodologies employed and the number of screening tests used. While we would like to do away with a "billing section" entirely, until we get help/ sponsorship from the government or philanthropists, this situation will have to remain.

Let me recap the procedures that take place in a blood bank from the time of donor entry.

* Questionnaire filling

* Pre-donation medical examination including haemoglobin testing

* The actual donation process

* Post-donation care

* Separation of the components, storage at appropriate temperatures and screening for transfusion transmissible infections.

* The final step is compatibility testing between donor and recipient blood at the time of the blood/component being issued.

Donor safety being top priority, it is only if the donor goes through the steps one and two that he/she is allowed to donate blood and even after that, as a result of the screening process, on an average, 10 — 15 per cent of collected units of blood are rejected. This figure varies between blood banks, depending again on the testing methodologies and tests used in screening. A fact that needs to be stressed here is that the recipient/relatives have every right to find out what tests are used to screen the blood he/she is going to receive. They also have the right to choose which blood bank issues the blood to them.

TRANSFUSION medicine is a constantly evolving field. Keeping pace with the vast amounts of information that we are being continuously bombarded with, we have technologies that are more sensitive and specific.

While autologous blood transfusion (your own blood transfused back into you) has yet to become a norm in India, it is the safest form of blood transfusion available. It is possible only in certain situations and the donor, who in this case is also the recipient, has to be fit to donate blood. While blood substitutes are in the trial stage, at the moment there is no replacement for human blood from volunteers. If blood is to be available at the time of a crisis, people have to come forward. In a crisis, people approach blood banks wanting blood desperately so as to be able to save their loved ones.

Blood donation is safe, simple and saves lives. Please don't wait to be asked — donate blood today. Tomorrow, who knows, I may need blood urgently or for that matter, so might you. Think about it.

October 1 is observed annually as National Voluntary Blood Donation day.

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