Blood shortage hits kids suffering from cancer

A teddy bear sits untended in the education centre of Kidwai's Pediatric Oncology Centre on June 29, 2019. DH PHOTO/AKHIL KADIDAL

A shortage of blood at the Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology here is interfering with the treatment of children suffering from cancer, doctors said. 

Statistics from the Karnataka Aids Prevention Society (KSAPS), a government body which mandates blood supplies, show that the state had achieved 110% of its target objectives until March 2019. Blood donation objectives had amounted to 7.7 lakh units of 300 millilitres each, while collected totals amounted to 8.5 lakh units. 

These figures, however, do not tell the full story. A senior doctor at Kidwai said most of the collected blood remained with private blood banks. “If a family of a child with cancer makes 10 requests for blood, the hospital is able to fulfil only six of them,” he said, adding that a heightened awareness campaign needs to be carried out to increase voluntary blood donations which currently stands at 88% of target totals in the city. 

Dr C Ramachandra, the director of the hospital, confirmed the shortage but clarified that the hospital has a constant shortfall of around 20%-25%. 

Pankaj Kumar Pandey, Commissioner, Health and Family Welfare, claimed there was no shortage of blood, and pointed to the state government’s Jeeva Sanjivini website, which tracks stocks in the city’s blood banks. The site shows healthy stocks of positive red blood cells across 57 centres. But stocks of platelet concentrates were much lower across government hospitals. 

Platelets are the mainstay of blood component therapy used to treat children newly diagnosed with acute leukaemia. Blood shortages are not limited to children, Dr Ramachandra said, explaining that an average of 400-500 people undergo chemotherapy at the hospital every day, of which 75-100 are children. “A lot of blood is required in these treatments. No matter how much blood we get, it is not enough,” he said. 

Meanwhile, several mothers with children at Kidwai said frequent shortages left them scrambling to secure supplies from private blood banks, which usually charge high rates. Jacob Chacko of the NGO Sanman, which helps with out-of-pocket costs, confirmed the claim. “Most families rack up nearly Rs 3,000 in expenses per week just to purchase blood units from private institutions,” he said. 

Pandey said funding for a central blood repository, which could help equate blood supplies to hospitals, had been approved in this year’s budget. “We are already working on the hub-and-spoke model,” he said. 

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