Call it The Bloodline. In a country chronically short of blood, there’s a little-known cellphone helpline that could help save a life or many. It’s probably the only service of its kind in India, possibly in the world.
All it takes is an SMS. Here’s how it works: a person in need of blood sends out a text message to a special number, mentioning, in a particular format, his name, city and the blood group required. Within a few seconds, he gets a return SMS with the name and number of a donor in that city.
The system is the brainchild of Khushroo Pocha, a Grade II railway office superintendent based in Nagpur. The SMSes access his web site, www.indianblooddonors.com, that has a database of 45,000 blood donors in 300 Indian towns and cities.
All the donors are voluntary. And since anyone can add their name to the donors’ list, the Bloodline is getting thicker and more effective every day. As of Wednesday, New Delhi had 1,708 donors on the site, Noida 359, Gurgaon 333, Mumbai 3,033.
Forty-year-old Khushroo started the site with his wife Fermin in 2000, drawing inspiration from a tragedy he had witnessed: the death, for want of blood, of a patient and, his own struggle for blood for a friend who desperately needed some.
“People travel to different places for treatment or surgery. They require blood. We face an acute blood shortage in India. Even if you are not a stranger in the city, you still need a lot of energy to find donors. I thought a web site could bridge this gap by listing blood donors,” Khushroo says.
The idea of hooking up the site to an SMS service came after students at IIM Ahmedabad - where he had been called to deliver a lecture on social entrepreneurship in last year - asked him how he expected the rural poor to access an online database.
“As I thought, it struck me that if people could get cricket scores, or find a date on the Internet by sending an SMS from their mobiles, the same process could work for blood donation as well.”
The Pochas began by investing Rs 2 lakh of their own to set up the system. The rewards came almost immediately. To their delight, the Pochas found 10 to 15 voluntary donors registering on the site every day.
More followed from their mobiles, using an SMSing system similar to the one used by blood seekers. The system has a scanner built into it: suspicious numbers that keep coming back to seek or donate are blocked.
“I don’t mind spending the money,' says Khushroo. “I think I have found my calling in life.”
Shortage of blood is a problem hospitals and patients in Delhi face all the time. The annual collection of blood in India is only 5.5-6 million units, far less than the required 8.5 million units.
R.N. Makroo, head of Transfusion Medicine at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, says: “It is an area of concern that in a country with such a massive population, we are facing acute shortage of blood. A significant number of deaths could be avoided if 4-5 per cent of the total population donated blood regularly and voluntarily.”
(Additional reporting by Jaya Shroff)