Blood Donations Drop by 75% Due to COVID-19, Here's How to Help

Thalassemia patients face the brunt of lockdown as the country stares at a severe shortage of blood.

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Coronavirus
6 min read
Thalassemia patients face the brunt of lockdown as the country stares at a severe shortage of blood. Social workers and government reiterate it is safe to donate blood.
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"I feel weak in the absence of a blood transfusion every 14th to 17th day. In the current circumstance, donors are not ready to go with me for the process. The blood society that always helps me, had told me to arrange a donor on my own after the lockdown was announced in March".

24-year-old Rahul, a thalassemia patient since birth tells FIT with distress in his voice.

"I am facing difficulty and I know more people like me here", he tells us on the phone from a small village in Uttar Pradesh.

A similar sentiment is echoed by many others with thalassemia - an inherited blood disorder that causes hemoglobin deficit in the body - patients from across the country whose "lifeline" is blood transfusion but they are unable to access it due to the lockdown restrictions.

Social media platforms are flooded by the appeals of patients and their relatives to the government for adequate arrangements.

Several reports from states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka and Delhi have highlighted the scarcity of blood. The situation, however, is much worse in small cities and towns where it's been difficult for people to step out of their house to donate blood amid the fear of COVID-19.

Even in normal circumstances, India faces a blood shortage. According to an India Spend report in 2018, India recorded a paucity of around 1.9 million unit blood.

Blood Shortage Leaves Many in Serious Trouble

On 15 April, when Rahul finally managed to find a donor, he could get a blood transfusion but one unit (250 grams) less than what was required. Since then he has been living in anxiety and stress as he doesn't know if he can find another donor for his next scheduled date on 30 April.

"I am trying to find help and reach out to as many people as I can. What else can I do?" he adds.

Many blood camps have been reportedly shut and blood drives canceled leaving these patients and social workers working for them, worried.

Shobha Tuli, the Secretary of Thalassemics India told FIT, "As soon as the lockdown was announced, we knew there was going to be blood shortage across the country. For thalassemia patients, blood is their lifeline so we had started suggesting all the patients to find their own donor through relatives and cousins because there was cancellation of a lot of blood camps."

"We advised families of thalassemia children to identify at least 10-15 donors as they need 1-3 unit blood each month. Some families could arrange but others who are from low-income groups have been finding it difficult to arrange donors", she added.

She has been receiving a lot of calls from patients across the country for help. However, she can only try. Times are difficult she reckons. In one of her blood camps, she had expected 200 donors to come but only 20 showed up.

According to some reports, leading blood banks in the country including the Indian Red Cross Society, which used to manage around 200 units of blood in one day before the lockdown, are now collecting 30-40 units only. This amounts for nearly 80 percent fall.

Purnanand Sanket, from Kidney Patients Welfare Association in Bengaluru, tells us, "Some dialysis patients need blood transfusion when the hemoglobin dip sharply but blood is not easily available for these patients during this time and injection takes its own time to increase the hemoglobin level. This has been a huge problem for kidney patients."

Official Figures Show Dwindling Blood Donations

According to the National Health Mission’s e-Rakt Kosh - an online portal that helps people find donation camps across the country and provides blood stock information - the number of blood camps held across the country was 606 in January but dropped to 473, 369, and 98 in the months of February, March and April (Till 22), respectively.

Blood Donations Drop by 75% Due to COVID-19, Here's How to Help
(Photo: FIT)

Similarly, the number of blood donation was 38,386 in February and reduced to 27,177 in March and 10,155 in April as of Wednesday, 22 April.

Government Takes Charge of the Situation

Tuli and her NGO had written to the CM of Delhi, PM and health ministry about the issues being faced by thalassemia patients. They have also been campaigning on social media to help the whole community deal with this grave situation.

After a lot of campaigns and appeals made to the government online, union health ministry is now actively trying to make the situation better.

Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on Tuesday, 21 April said "It is necessary to ensure sufficient availability of blood, especially for people needing regular blood transfusion on account of blood disorders such as Thalassemia, Sickle Cell Anemia and Hemophilia, etc. I have asked the Indian Red Cross to arrange pick up and drop for donors who can donate the blood adhering to the rules of social distancing."

He has also written to all the states and UTs to ensure there is no dearth of blood during these trying times.

Appreciating the measures taken by the ministry, Tulli tells us, "A lot of organizations including Red Cross India are trying to arrange to pick up and drop facilities for donors but with more than one lakh cases of thalassemia major patients in the country, it's not possible for everyone to avail of the facility in these tough times. Some of them don't even know how and where these facilities are available."

She further adds,

“Due to the lockdown, donors are not comfortable coming out of their house for somebody they don’t know. However, I salute the committed donors who are still extending a helping hand.”

How to Donate Blood During Lockdown?

Earlier, in March, the health ministry’s National Blood Transfusion Council (NBTC) had issued guidelines with regards to blood donation during COVID-19 lockdown.

In these guidelines, NBTC director Dr Shobini Rajan, had said, safe supply of blood was essential.

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

On the basis of those guidelines, here are a few facts about blood transfusion during COVID-19 that you must know:

  • Medical organisations and the WHO have encouraged healthy people to continue donating blood during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • There has been no reported case of any one contracting coronavirus during the blood donation or blood transfusion process.

  • You will not be tested for COVID-19 before donating blood. However, your temperature will be checked and all the standard procedures will be followed.

  • You will be asked to maintain safe distance and use sanitizer. You must adhere to the norms of social distancing.

  • If you have tested positive for COVID-19 or have come in contact with a positive case, you should refrain from donating blood.

  • You can use e-Rakt Kosh to get passes that will allow you to step out of the house during lockdown to donate the blood.

  • If you test positive for COVID-19 within 14 days of donating the blood, you must inform the blood camp authorities.

  • 24*7 helpline service by Indian Red Cross is available and the numbers are 011-23359379, 93199 82104, 93199 82105. You can call on these numbers to donate the blood or if you know someone who is in the need.

How COVID-19 Infected Can Help?

Some companies are encouraging COVID-19 recovered patients to donate blood so that their plasma can be used to treat more COVID-19 patients. Indian Council of Medical Research has already given a go-ahead for the clinical trial of convalescent plasma.

"We have requested Red Cross volunteers to approach people who have recovered from COVID-19 and motivate them to donate blood," said Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan.

These are a few ways in which you can help the ones who are fighting for their life in the middle of a pandemic that continues to impact our healthcare system and disrupt services.

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