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NEW DELHI : The Union health ministry has asked states to ensure the smooth conduct of blood donations amid the ongoing lockdown, in a relief for cancer and blood disorder patients whose treatments were in danger of getting disrupted.

The ministry’s National Blood Transfusion Council (NBTC) has issued interim guidelines in this respect so that such patients get sufficient attention amid the ongoing fight against covid-19.

Compliance with social distancing norms and fear of infections have led to the cancellation of several blood donation camps and lower turnout at operating camps.

NBTC director Dr Shobini Rajan said blood banks depend on donations from healthy individuals and it is essential that supplies of safe blood continues to be maintained at licensed centres. The letter dated 25 March suggested continuing both in-house and outdoor donation, complying with social distancing norms, infection control guidelines and biomedical waste disposal rules. Mint has seen a copy of the letter.

“Social distancing being advocated for preventing an individual from contracting covid-19 is also being interpreted to not congregate for blood donation opportunities," said Rajan, adding if people do not turn up at blood centres or camp locations, blood supplies could fall short, hurting those in urgent need of blood and blood components, like thalassemics, persons with severe anaemia, instances of severe blood loss, road traffic accidents and post-partum haemorrhage.

“Activities for blood collection and voluntary blood donation are required to be continued judiciously during this period to meet the blood requirements," said Rajan.

The government also noted “in light of covid-19, there are several reports of apprehensions among potential blood donors and donor organizations with respect to risks of contracting the infection through blood donation camps and visiting the blood centre to donate blood".

Citing the US Food and Drug Administration, Rajan said there have been no reported or suspected cases of transfusion-transmitted covid-19. “Individuals are not at risk of contracting covid-19 through the blood donation process or via a blood transfusion, since respiratory viruses are generally not known to be transmitted by donation or transfusion," Rajan said.

“The unexpected crisis, and the lockdown in response to it, have virtually paralyzed blood centres. We have had a sudden drop in the number of voluntary donors in blood donation camps with overnight cancellations," said Dr Joy Mammen, professor, department of transfusion medicine and haematology, Christian Medical College, Vellore. There are situations such as chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants and cancer surgery that cannot be stopped midway, he said.

March-July usually sees a drop in blood donations because of exams and vacations, pointed out Dr Zarine S. Bharucha, chairperson of the Federation of Bombay Blood Banks. “This year, the problem is doubled as we are passing through times of unique challenges such as covid-19," Bharucha said. Supplies of consumables and reagents needed for collection and testing of blood are likely to face shortages if transport is not easily available, Bharucha said.

Public health experts have sought greater support from the authorities for the movement of blood donation vans with proper identification.

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