There is much more to the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) than blood donation. Red Cross volunteers are among the first to reach out to disaster victims across India, from bomb blasts in Delhi to the earthquake in Uri and the tsunami in the Andamans, Dr S.P. Agarwal, secretary general, IRCS, tells Sanchita Sharma The IRCS runs the oldest blood bank in Delhi and is associated with safe blood.
How is it encouraging people to donate blood to make up for the annual shortfall?
Blood donation is a small but important part of the IRCS activities in India. We have been collecting 2526,000 units of blood every year. But there continues to be a 20-30 per cent annual deficit. India needs 6-7 million units of blood, of which some 5 million units are collected. Therefore, to encourage voluntary donation the IRCS has made the process of donating blood easier.
Have these efforts increased in the amount of blood collected?
Yes. Earlier we’d collect 1,200-1,500 units of blood in a month, but over the last three months collection’s gone up to over 2,500 units per month. Thankfully, people no longer have an irrational fear of donating blood, so we focus on organising blood donation camps in places other than schools and colleges. Such as, night camps at call-centres and at religious get-togethers. Just two days ago, the IRCS collected 1,100 units of blood at a donation camp in a Nirankari gathering, where we had set up four camps.
What are the other major activities IRCS involved in?
The IRCS is involved in several disaster management activities across India. Some 800 trained volunteers helped at the bomb explosion sites in Delhi in October last year. First-aid apart, our "family packs” with clothes, utensils, candles, tarpaulin, blankets and dry rations have been used in places as far-flung as Uri and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In fact, water sanitation units that filter 10,000 litres of water every day installed by the IRCS in Uri after the earthquake, in Tamil Nadu after the floods, and in the Andamans after the tsunami are still being used. We're also assisting displaced persons in Jammu and Kashmir and the north-east. The IRCS has a massive volunteer network across the country.
What are a volunteer's responsibilities?
The theme of this year’s World Red Cross day (May 8) was volunteerism. The IRCS recruits 12-15 million volunteers each year, but since most of them are school and college students and young adults, we lose them after a few years when they get busy with jobs etc. Special training in first-aid, for example, earns volunteers a certificate that is recognized by the fire service, industry and the mining sector.
We're also starting a year-long post-graduate diploma course in disaster preparedness and rehabilitation from August 1 that will run on weekends.