Need blood and can’t find a donor? If you’re at Safdarjung Hospital, a stranger is likely to lend a sympathetic ear and lead you to one of the many enterprising touts who cheat desperate patients and their families with the help of tea stall owners, hospital guards and cleaners.
The price varies, depending on the patient’s need and their ability to pay.
“You can get one unit of blood for Rs 3,500, and if the blood group required is not with me, I can get someone to go with you pretending to be a friend or family,” one of the touts told this reporter.
Despite a 1996 Supreme Court order, banning professional donors, touts are fuelling a growing illegal racket of blood donation for cash. Under the National Blood Policy, only family and friends of the patient can donate blood to replace transfused blood.
Professional donors usually have poor health and are more likely to have bloodborne infections such as HIV, hepatitis B and C and sexually-transmitted infections, and so the blood they donate is unusable.
Many like Gorakhpur-resident Bhimsen Yadav, 24, cannot get donors because they are strangers in Delhi. “I was asked to deposit two units of blood for my father’s open-heart surgery two months ago. Since I didn’t have a donor, a sweeper directed me to a chaiwallah outside the hospital who sent me to a man sitting under a tree right beside the hospital gate,” said Yadav, who cannot donate because he has thalassaemia, a blood disorder.
The tout asked for Rs 2,700 for two units of blood but Yadav decided to ask a doctor. “He advised me not to go for it. I finally called a cousin from my village to donate,” he said.
Chain of corruption
Hospital employees are usually the ones who direct patients to touts. “I always ask patients to write an application to the medical superintendent explaining their problem so that the hospital can help them. If they don’t get help, I direct them to a person (tout) who can get them blood for a price,” said Subhash Yadav, one of the guards at hospital.
Blood from professional donation is often not fit for transfusion and discarded. Salma Begum, 27, a resident of Bulandshahar who is expecting her second child and was at the hospital for her ultrasound, learned it the hard way.
“I needed blood transfusion after delivery two years ago and since my husband was out of town and mother-in-law had low haemoglobin and could not donate, we went to a tout,” said Begum. “We gave him Rs 1,600 for one unit of blood but the blood was rejected by the doctors because it was unfit,” she said. She finally got a donor when her husband arrived a week later.
The hospital is combating the problem of crowding. The hospital has a daily OPD footfall of 8,000 and in 2013-14, over 95,000 surgeries were performed at the hospital. In view of the massive patient rush, the waiting list for treatment is long.
“I visited the hospital more than 20 times over the past three months because my wife’s condition was worsening. First, the surgery was scheduled for June 2, but they didn’t have beds, so we were asked to come on June 12. My wife finally got admitted on June 15,” said Gopal Rai, a carpenter from Bihar, who is one of many hundreds who have to wait for months to get treated.Narela-resident Sunita Chauhan, 48, has been trying in vain to get a date for her surgery to remove a fibrous growth in her lungs since February. "It took three weeks to get a date for an ultrasound and now I have to wait another two months for surgery. I have to come back every fortnight because my chest pain is getting worse and medicines prescribed offer only temporary relief," said Chauhan.