Over the past few years, India has been focused on improving health indicators across rural and urban areas. However, ensuring safe and adequate blood, which is fundamental to our healthcare system, still remains a huge challenge. Estimates suggest that India requires more than 15 million units of blood annually, although blood banks are able to manage barely 11 million units each year. Reportedly 84% of blood donations are collected through voluntary donors. However, reports from across the country reveal incorrect practice of considering near relatives as voluntary donors. According to World Health Organization (WHO) standards, a country requires blood units equal to one percent of its population. Experts believe that as per these standards, India is already far behind, but the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 has made it worse. The lockdown was imposed on 25th March and is presently continuing. As per government data on the National Blood Transfusion Council website:
• The total donated blood had dropped from 38,189 units in February, 2020 to 26,741 units in
• Only 3,037 units have been received in the first 10 days of April, 2020
• The number of blood donation camps have also come down from 473 in February to 46 in
April so far
Most blood banks depend on voluntary donors for their supply, for which donation camps are arranged daily across the country. However, due to the lockdown, such activities remain mostly suspended as mass gatherings are not allowed, thus affecting the stock of fresh blood. The voluntary blood donations have gone down by almost 80%. More so, the blood platelets have a shelf life of only 7 days, thus in absence of continuous supply, reserves are bound to dip.
The most vulnerable people who need blood in our country are patients suffering from thalassemia, haemophilia and cancer, pregnant women and other individuals facing critical diseases or major accidents. The threat of COVID-19 and a shortage of blood has put these patients in grave danger.
• India is considered the thalassaemia capital of the world. Every year more than 10,000
children are born with ‘thalassaemia major’ - the worst form of this condition. For such
patients blood transfusions are the primary treatment. They need intravenous infusions of
freshly drawn blood (collected less than a week ago) every 2-5 weeks.
• India has the second-highest cases of Haemophilia in the world, which is the most common form of hereditary bleeding disorder. Haemophilia patients can bleed with or without any injury. As treatment they may need plasma infusions or the bleeding can be fatal.
• As per studies, India ranks 3rd highest in reported cases on Leukemia or blood cancer, which affects more than 70,000 men and women in the country. Most Leukemia patients need blood transfusions during their care.
• Estimated number of cancer patients in India is around 2.25 million. Cancer patients need blood transfusions to treat anaemia. Blood transfusions are also needed because of blood loss due to surgery or to counter the negative effects of treatments like chemotherapy.
• More than half the women in India are anaemic and a majority of maternal deaths in the country are due to postpartum hemorrhage, which makes blood a critical component.
Focus is entirely on prevention of COVID-19, due to which doctors fear that there may be neglect in other areas leading to greater health risks. Hospitals have pushed off surgeries to make room for Corona Virus patients due to which the demand for blood by surgeries have fallen, but in total the regular demand for blood and blood products by other patients is still staggering. According to Red Cross, there is no data or evidence that Novel Corona Virus is transmissible by blood transfusion, since it is a respiratory virus. Blood can be collected from individuals who are healthy keeping their travel history and contact history in mind. WHO has also stated that respiratory viruses have never been reported to be transmitted through blood or blood components and any actions taken to mitigate the risks are therefore precautionary.
As the blood banks run dry, the Indian government has recently clarified that voluntary blood donation camps are allowed to be organised after following strict social distancing measures. 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 the lockdown to donate blood. The National Blood Transfusion Council has written to blood banks, hospitals and state governments to ensure adequate reserves as maintained. During this difficult and uncertain period, donors are afraid to come forward to donate blood. Measures to restore and gain public and donor confidence in blood donation are extremely important.
Facts about Blood Donation during COVID-19 times:
• Blood donation counts an essential travel
• Blood donors are allowed to give blood voluntarily even during the lockdown
• Donors can go individually but not in groups
• Blood donation facilities are following social distancing measures strictly
• Donor safety is ensured by use of mask and alcohol based sanitiser
• Blood transfusions can’t spread coronavirus
• Donors need to reveal their travel history during the last 28 days and history of recent flu like illness to the blood bank doctor during medical check-up before donating blood
• Coronavirus patients can give blood after having fully recovered
Many organisations are working to create awareness among the public about blood donations during this pandemic to gain their confidence. Efforts are being made to ensure the supply of blood to those in need does not break. One such organisation is Khoon. While people quarantine, Khoon is running to ensure there is enough blood in our blood banks. They have a national helpline number open for patients and donors (1800 890 6465) and are also taking responsibility of transportation of donors. Khoon is the largest network of emergency donors in India. Every two seconds someone needs blood. When a healthy donor decides to not donate blood, someone stands a chance of losing their life. The three most common myths that keep one from donating blood -
1. Myth - It causes fatigue
Reality - Donors are given refreshments and can assume work in an hour
2. Myth - It reduces blood in the body
Reality - Around 1 pint is taken, an adult has 8-12 pints of blood
3. Myth - Blood donation is a painful process
Reality - Only pain is of the needle pricking the skin
Any healthy person free from any active illness, between 18-65 years of age, weighing at least 45 kgs can give blood. The interval between two donations should be 3 months for males and 4 months for females. Donating blood is considered healthy for the heart. Every donor can save up to 3 lives. Millions of lives are saved through blood donations every year.
Patients suffering from critical diseases were already facing hardships. The menace of COVID-19 has endangered their lives further. Social distancing does not have to mean social disengagement. Without human donors, there can be no blood. It is the responsibility of the community to donate and save lives of fellow human beings.
COVID-19 has already claimed too many lives, It is time for humanity to step up and donate blood to ensure that no one else dies just because there was not enough blood. With a population like ours, there could never be a shortage of blood, if all eligible donors decide to donate blood regularly for those in need.
Donate blood for a reason, let the reason be life. So, will you save a life today, or may be three?
-Written by Eman Khan
(Winner of 'Call for Writers' Essay Competition by KhoonKhas in Adult category)
(University of Calcutta, Kolkata)
As Eman's essay highlights, there are a host of things that govern decisions surrounding blood donation during a pandemic and nationwide lockdown.
Keeping this in mind, within 3 days of the lockdown, KHOON established effective communication for all blood donor registration, blood request and emergency cases through its toll-free helpline. It is happy to have helped facilitate 1,500 blood donors during the lockdown, ensuring complete hygiene and safety of everyone who come forward to donate.
We have together impacted more than 4,500 lives from March 24th to May 1st via the helpline.