Are all voluntary blood donors safe? It would appear no, since many have been found to be unwitting carriers of the deadly HIV detected during screening at state-run blood banks and laboratories.
The chilling revelations have come as a major source of concern for the state health care establishment and have set off fears of such carriers roaming unbeknownst and posing a constant threat of spreading the lethal strain by way of needle pricks or sexual relationships.
The majority of the 65 staterun blood banks across the state too haven't bothered to send word to donors, whose blood samples had tested positive for HIV or for other such deadly ailments as malaria, hepatitis B&C and syphilis at the respective laboratories of these units.
As per their rules of operation, the blood banks collect samples at the voluntary blood donation camps and bring them to their laboratories for running mandatory tests to confirm whether the samples are clear of the five dreaded ailments. Only upon such tests are the blood samples cleared for being administered to patients in need. The blood banks summarily discard samples, which tests positive for any of these five ailments.
"We are well aware of the situation. Some of the tests deemed positive for HIV or other ailments could also be false. But even if the tests were to confirm HIV, we can't send word to the affected donors for fear of them being ostracised and being treated as objects of hate and apathy," Asit Biswas, spokesperson of the state health department, told HT.
However, conceding that there remains the clear and present danger of the deadly HIV strain spreading from the infected donors, Biswas said, "It is true that some of the infected donors could still be roaming around, unaware of the threat that they might be posing to others. Future blood donation camps could also be adversely impacted should we send word to the infected donors that they are carriers. But we need to follow the guidelines set by the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) in dealing with this situation," Biswas told HindustanTimes.
However, the blood safety wing of the West Bengal AIDS Prevention and Control Society sought to contradict Biswas's views in the matter. "Considering the sheer gravity of the situation, blood banks ought to inform the donors that their samples have tested positive for such ailments. We can then ask them to report to the integrated council and treatment centres (ICTCs) attached to local hospitals. However, maintaining strict confidentiality is of the essence here," Aniruddha Bala, a senior officer the blood safety wing, told HindustanTimes.
Of the 50,460 blood samples tested at the state-of-the-art Central Blood Bank (CBB) at Manicktala between January and July, as many as 1200 samples reportedly tested positive for HIV and four other critical ailments. Around 200 of the donors were found to be HIV+, but none were informed.
"If we consider the cumulative numbers over seven months since January, there could be thousands of donors who are not aware that they are carriers of the deadly HIV strain," a senior officer of the CBB told HT, adding that the practice has been on for years.
"Being a state-of-the-art facility, we don't have any ICTCs to counsel donors who could be infected with HIV," the officer told HT.
SN Guchhait, director CBB, however refused comments on the matter.