Dr Satya Paul Agarwal, secretary general of the Indian Red Cross Society, is a known neurosurgeon, academic and health administrator. He was awarded the Dr BC Roy National Award (2002), the Henry Dunant Medal (2004), and also the Padma Bhushan Award (2010) for his services. He spoke to Jaya Shroff Bhalla on a range of issues. Excerpts:
With the dengue season approaching, are we prepared to tackle the blood requirement?
At Red Cross, we have a lot of voluntary donation and hence blood is never short in supply. We collect about 30,000 units of blood every year, which contributes to 10% of all of Delhi's blood collection. We provide free blood to all government hospital and charge a minimum of Rs. 850 per unit (towards processing charges) to private hospitals.
How much blood does India collect yearly, and is it enough?
We collect 9.3 million blood units against a demand of 12 million. Sadly our voluntary donation is only 60% and the rest is by way of mandatory replacement donation. We have a steep 2 million unit shortage of blood annually.
So, how does this shortage affect our population?
Maternal mortality rate is very high in India as the blood does not reach the mothers on time. For road accident cases, the blood requirement may vary from 8-15 units. Many have to pay exorbitant amounts for blood in the absence of donors.
As a developing nation, how much do we contribute to global blood collection annually?
Globally, over 90 million units of blood are collected by voluntary donation every year, but only 39% of this is collected in low and middle income countries where 82% of world's population lives.
What is the role of the Indian Red Cross Society in meeting the demand?
We have 166 blood banks across 14 states. We contribute 10% of the total blood collection in India.
Why this inability to meet the demand?
We are not making optimum use of the collected blood. Only 35% is separated into its components (plasma, red blood cells and platelets). The rest is given as whole blood. If the remaining 65% was also separated into components, it can save three times the lives we are currently securing.
What stops people from voluntarily donating blood?
There is a lack of awareness. It's not just about the poor and the illiterate or the rural or urban, there is a general perception that if one donates blood, he/she will become weak which is untrue as the body recovers for the lost blood within 48 hours.
Are you doing something about enhancing voluntary donation?
Yes. To involve the youth we go to universities, BPOs and even offices to encourage the youth to donate blood.
And has it helped?
Yes, many times we have been able to collect more than 500 units in a single camp. Young people only need to be shown the way.
What can the government do to enhance voluntary donation?
Have more blood banks, bring in more blood separating machines and have more public awareness campaigns. While the government is doing its bit, we still have a long to go to meet the demand.