Donation, generally low during summer, has fallen drastically because of the lockdown
By Meghna Das Chowdhury
Kolkata: Blood banks across the country have been facing a shortage of donors following the COVID-19 lockdown. Now, several private health-care providers and NGOs in West Bengal have launched public campaigns and even door-to-door blood-collection drives.
Blood banks are running dry because blood-donation camps that were regularly organized by political parties, community clubs and NGOs have been suspended while regular donors are confined to their homes. To meet this emergency several private organisations and a few blood banks in the state, especially Kolkata, decided to contact people on their records and request them to donate blood after a thorough check-up and screening.
“We are going through a tough time now,” says Dr Sumit Das, who works with Abhijit Mitra Memorial Charitable Society, Kolkata. “Due to the lockdown and shortage of blood, several important surgeries are getting postponed and people suffering from thalassemia are going through a near-death experience. This is why we decided to come up with this initiative and we had to take permission from several government bodies like the police, blood banks, etc. We gave them an outline of how we could conduct the tests and collection without breaking rules of social distancing. Only after that, they allowed us to go ahead with the plan.”
Officials from the leading blood banks across the country say blood donation is generally low during summer, but in the past two weeks it has fallen drastically. They have been unable to collect even half what they used to. Patients don’t know what to do when the hospital authorities say that they are out of the blood.
Says Jyothsna, the mother of a 9-year-old thalassemia patient, “We didn’t have the faintest idea that their stock could run out. The authorities contacted a clinic to get in touch with a few regular donors. They brought these donors, extracted and screened their blood and finally, we were supplied blood for my daughter.”
“We are only calling up personally and requesting those we know and are our regular donors,” says Dr Das. “We are doing a full screening, asking questions about their travel history and taking blood only after that. We are doing it weekly and we only bring in 15 people each week to avoid large gatherings. If they can come to us that is good otherwise, we also have arrangements to go to their house to collect blood if it is nearby.”
The blood shortage is being felt throughout the country, which is why the government has allowed small blood-donation camps to be held. An Economic Times report said, “The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has issued detailed guidelines to ensure there is no shortage of blood and donors can come out during lockdown to donate blood. The National Blood Transfusion Council, under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has written to blood banks, hospitals and state governments to ensure that adequate reserves are maintained.”
But the police don’t appear to have been told. Their strict enforcement of the lockdown discourages anyone going out. So blood collection has to be done either at home or donors have to be transported to collection centres.
Recounts Sumit Dey, a blood donor, “I was called by Lions Blood Bank here in Kolkata during the lockdown and they asked me whether I could help them by donating blood. It was an emergency as they immediately needed B+ blood for surgery. I agreed at once. Within an hour their transport reached my place and took me to the blood bank. They did a thorough health check-up and asked me a few questions before taking my blood.”
India is one of the world’s worst performers in organ and blood donation, due to a complete lack of awareness of its vital importance to the public health system. As an article in IndiaSpend, a website points out, “India fell short of 1.9 million units of blood in 2016-17 — equivalent to 60 tankers — that could have aided more than 320,000 heart surgeries or 49,000 organ transplants, according to official data.”
But a health crisis on the scale of COVID19 presents a rare opportunity to set things right. As Dr. Prasenjeet Banerjee, a Kolkata-based GP says, “This is a very good time to bring about awareness about the importance of blood donation. Now people are facing the consequences of blood shortage. Emergencies like these can occur anytime and therefore, it is always important to be prepared beforehand. I hope people understood how important it is to donate blood and will come out in large numbers after things get back to normal.”
To know about the scenario of blood banks in Guwahati, read: Blood Banks in Guwahati Are Drying Up