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India’s rarest blood groups make transfusions a challenging affair

columns Updated: Dec 13, 2014 01:30 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
India’s rarest blood groups

Bangalore-based Ravi Hegde, 27, discovered he had the rare Bombay “Oh” blood group when he went to donate blood for his aunt’s surgery five years ago.

“The blood bank immediately put me on their donor registry, they said they just had two other potential donors with that blood group,” says Hegde. The need for the blood group is so rare that he hasn’t been tapped for donation even once over five years, but he also lives in fear.

“If I ever have a medical emergency and need blood for any surgery, say a liver transplant that requires more than 20 units of blood, I’ll find it impossible to get donors,” says Hegde.

A rare blood is a one that is found in 1 in 1,000 people in a given population, but Bombay “Oh” is rarer, occurring in one in 7,600 people in Mumbai and one in 2,500 in south-west Maharashtra. It’s absent in other parts of the country.

“At Indraprastha Apollo, we get one demand for very rare groups (see box) Bombay “Oh” once every year or every two years. In most cases, patients know and come with identified donors but it’s a problem when patients are from outside the city,” says Dr Ravi Makroo, director, transfusion medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals.

Each year, the Apollo Blood Bank collects 22,000 units of blood.

There is a nationwide annual shortage of about 2 million units. For a population of 1.2 billion,

India needs 12 million units of blood annually. Ideally, if 1% of the total eligible population — healthy adults aged between 18 and 65 years weighing over 45 kg— donates once each year, there would be no shortage. A healthy adult can donate blood four times a year.

Data from the Indian Red Cross Society shows that Delhi collects almost 6 lakh units of blood, largely from voluntary donation. “Voluntary donations across India are going up mostly because people realise donating blood doesn’t harm them. In Delhi, 92% of the collection is voluntary, up from 72% five years ago,” says Dr Vanashree Singh, director, Blood Bank, National Headquaters, Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS).

The target, she says, is to meet the nation’s requirements through voluntary donation, so that the patients’ families don’t have to scurry around looking for donors.

Arranging rare blood types donor — including rh-negative blood types — is tough. “It’s not easy to meet demand in metros such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad because up to 50% patients in the major hospitals are from other states or other countries. In cities that have become health care hubs, there’s always a shortfall,” says Rahul Verma, co-founder of the patient-support network, Uday Foundation.

At IRCS, there is a repository of rare groups and subgroups but not the ultra-rare ones. For example, only 7-8% people have AB+ blood group, among who one in five have the A2B subgroup.

“Everyone should know their blood group and have at least two donors on call, should there be an emergency,” says Dr Makroo.