Blood banks dry up in city as lockdown cuts down on donation camps, donors
Dr. Rahul Bhargava, director, Institute of blood disorder and Bone Marrow transplant, Fortis Medical Research Institute said, “Every month we need at least 100 units of blood for thalassemia patients but since lockdown we could manage to get 30-40 units through voluntary blood donation.”Updated: Apr 25, 2020 19:38 IST
Hridesh Khurana, 20, suffers from thalassemia and requires blood transfusion every two weeks. Since the lockdown on March 25, Hridesh has struggled to get blood.
“We would usually go to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi,” said his father Mahesh Khurana. The family resides in Subhash Nagar. “The next transfusion in AIIMS was scheduled for March 30, which had to be postponed due to the lockdown. At that time, my son’s haemoglobin level (Hb) level was 8.30 grams/decilitre.”
Thalassemia is a genetic disorder that causes low haemoglobin -- a protein that carries oxygen and gives blood its red colour -- level. The minimum required level is 9 grams/decilitre. On top of that, Hridesh also has the rare B+ blood group.
“By April 10, this had dropped to 7.5 grams/decilitre. If it dropped to six, he would have gone into critical condition,” said Mahesh. With Gurugram blood banks facing shortage of blood in the absence of donors who could not donate in the wake of the lockdown, he had to struggle to arrange the three units of blood. A unit contains 300 to 350 millilitres of haemoglobin.
“Blood banks told us they were running out of units. We visited other hospitals too that cited similar problems. At last, a hospital agreed to give two units in place of a donor giving an equal quantity. A relative donated two units of blood and we got the transfusion done at the Rotary blood bank,” said Khurana. He does not have a plan on what to do on April 25, the next transfusion date.
“After the lockdown, more than 25 families who used to take their children to Delhi have approached us. Earlier we were providing free blood units to 45 patients,” said Dr. Mahavir Jain, project director, Rotary Thalassemic Care, Gurugram. “For any family to spend ₹8000-10,000 after every 15 days is not easy. Therefore, as per the government rule, patients who require regular blood transfusion have to be given blood free of cost. Lockdown and coronavirus scare among donors has added to the plight of these families.”
Dr. Rahul Bhargava, director, Institute of blood disorder and Bone Marrow transplant, Fortis Medical Research Institute said, “Every month we need at least 100 units of blood for thalassemia patients but since lockdown we could manage to get 30-40 units through voluntary blood donation.”
According to him, the reasons for the gap are two-fold: Most hospitals are not operating at full capacity and blood donors area hesitant to break lockdown curbs. “People are not coming for voluntary donation although the administration has allowed curfew passes. Donors are scared of visiting clinics or hospitals due to Covid-19,” he said.
Dr. Neha Singh, a consultant paediatrician and hemato-oncologist at the Paras Hospital said that at the present levels, they are giving blood to those who need it the most such as critical patients -- a procedure called blood triaging. “An adult thalassemia patient requires three units of blood every 15-20 days. If it is not given then the patient may die of oxygen starvation followed by multi-organ failure. It is, therefore, crucial to address those patients whose Hb level are on constant decline,” she said.
“The ideal hemoglobin level for a thalassemia patient is 9 but we are allowing it to drop till 7. When the level reaches 6, an emergency arises. In the current scenario we can address only those patients who can be prevented from going into critical health condition,” said Bhargava.
To address the crisis that is now reported from across the country, Union minister of health and family welfare Harsh Vardhan on Tuesday said that he has written to all states to ensure adequate availability of blood in blood banks and in particular,for those suffering from blood disorders such as thalassemia, sickle sell anemia, and haemophilia, among others.
In Gurugram, according to Dr. Jain, patients who need blood transfusion are either dependent upon Delhi-based government hospitals or private hospitals in the city.
He said, “In December 2019, Rotary started providing free blood units to thalassemia patients. Since then we have been holding blood camps, providing consultations and free transfusion of thalassemia major or minor patients. We were also providing blood to private hospitals as per their requirement knowing the stipulated life span of blood packs.”
They were able to suffice the need by organising blood camps before the lockdown. “Though the government and administration has allowed to hold these camps even today, it is difficult. People are scared, suspecting that they might get Covid-19. Today, we don’t have a single blood unit left,” said Dr Jain.
Doctors said they have been facilitating ambulance service to bring donors to the blood bank for donation. Others have asked blood recipients like Khurana to bring donors along with them.
Fortis also conducted blood camps in two condominiums to shore up their stock.
“We could collect only 25 units of blood,” said Bhargava. “We followed all the parameters like checking the travel history of the donor and other health conditions. Still, didn’t get close to what we needed.” But he is hopeful. “As people adapt to the pandemic situation, we would see more people coming out for donation.”