The National Aids Control Organisation's (Naco) proposal to the Union government to hike the per unit price of blood from RS 500 to RS 1,200, a jump of about 140%, may sound staggering at the outset. But we must look beyond the percentage figure. This is because an increase in per unit price could provide recipients a greater cover against blood-related complications that may occur after a transfusion or the use of blood products. The extra amount, though yet to be accepted by the government, will go towards conducting more sophisticated pre-transfusion tests. At present, blood banks follow the rules set by the Drug Contr-ollers, which include certain mandatory tests for them. Along with the mandatory tests, some blood banks, like the Rotary Blood Bank, conduct extra tests like Hepatitis B within the R1,500 they charge the general public for a unit of blood. Blood banks also provide free blood to a wide category of people: Below Poverty Line card holders, blood donors, Thalassemics, HIV+ and those who are admitted in the free beds of government hospitals. According to a report, though there are no conclusive studies on the number of such cases, experts believe that the "transfusion of infected blood is responsible for around 6% of Aids and hepatitis cases" in the country. So there is no discounting the fact that safe blood for all is an important aspect of any robust health system.
Despite the obvious importance of blood banks, many of them are in a parlous condition. In non-metro areas, there is virtually no regulation and a number of illegal banks operate with impunity. According to a parliamentary standing committee on health, India has failed to reach its target to set up one blood bank each in 39 new districts identified in the states of Bihar, UP, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Karnataka and Mizoram. The National Aids Control Programme-NACP III (2007-12) had promised to do this. Moreover, the establishment of the National Blood Transfusion Authority to streamline blood collection and transfusion services is yet to be set up. The good news is that there have been some positive innovations in this sector: for example, Orissa, under the National Rural Health Mission, has started an e-blood bank service in which users can use the internet, send an SMS, or call up a toll free number to ascertain the availability of blood in various banks.
While properly-screened blood and blood products are extremely important - and their availability can be seen in the context of the larger issue of human rights - the government also needs to do much more to popularise voluntary blood donation across the country, especially in low-performing states like Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Manipur, Meghalaya and Uttar Pradesh. The availability of safe blood could literally mean the difference between life and death for many who need it.