The SMS network for blood donors set up by an enterprising couple is yet another example of the sterling initiatives taken by people to provide services where the state has failed. While this is commendable, it will only address a very minuscule part of the larger problem of lack of safe blood in the country. For a start, it will only be accessible to those who possess mobile telephones, leaving out large swathes of India where people live on less than a dollar a day. Though the Supreme Court had issued directives as far back as 1996 that safe blood be made available in public health facilities, there is still an enormous shortfall. Only five million units of blood are available against a demand of 8.5 million units a year. Of the five million, over 50 per cent is used in the metros.
This shows that the government’s much-touted National Blood Policy has not worked with patients still having to rely on dodgy private blood banks. Most of these banks rely on professional donors and do not have screening facilities. To make matters worse, they lack both proper cold chains where blood can be stored as well as the equipment to extract blood products. Very few public health facilities have blood banks and there does not seem to be any move to rectify this anomaly. In rural areas, one of the main factors for maternal mortality is lack of blood transfusion in time. The culture of donating blood, which is how other countries have dealt with the problem, does not exist in India. If just three per cent of eligible Indians were to donate blood regularly, the country’s needs could be met. Even close family members are reluctant to donate blood owing to misconceptions about the ill-effects that this could have on health.
It is up to the medical fraternity to dispel such myths. Screening blood and donors for infections is not a priority here which means that there is every possibility that the blood you are buying could be tainted. The only solution is to have a national blood bank that can coordinate with state banks. At present the management of blood is fragmented. Blood holds the key to life for many. The government cannot leave the private sector to cater to demand. It cannot shrug off its role in providing this lifeline to people.