Blood banks need better management

Recent data provided by the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) reveals that over 28 lakh units of blood have been discarded by hospitals and blood banks in India during the last five years because of poor storage and management practices. In a country like ours that faces acute blood shortage, this is a tragic waste. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), only nine million units are collected annually in India against the demand for 12 million units. There are 234 million major operations here, 63 million trauma-induced surgeries, 31 million cancer-related procedures and 10 million pregnancy-related complications which require blood transfusions. Disorders like sickle cell anaemia, thalassemia and haemophilia require repeated blood transfusions. Timely availability of safe blood is a question of life and death for road accident victims. The shortfall in supply has resulted in the mushrooming of the blood donation industry despite WHO guidelines and the Supreme Court ban. Most of these donors are from high risk groups.

In India, the primary cause of blood shortage is the lack of voluntary donors, though their number has been rising. However, much needs to be done in the areas of blood
collection and storage. A 2016 assessment of Indian blood banks supported by NACO shows that 87 districts have no blood banks. This goes against the health ministry guidelines that each district in the country must have at least one blood bank. Among the 1,000 and odd public blood banks, only 74% had basic functionality and just 31% had advanced blood separation component units. “Considering the deleterious effect of poor quality practices on patient care, it is imperative that specific programmes and strategies to improve quality systems in blood transfusion services are developed and implemented across the country,” the assessment conducted by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said.

At a time when healthcare providers are battling acute shortage of blood for life-saving procedures, India needs more and better-managed blood banks. The National Health Policy 2017 has also raised concerns about “access to blood and blood safety.” While the campaign to encourage voluntary blood donation needs to be stepped up, it is equally necessary that the blood so collected is not wasted because of poor management. Blood banks, so far, have focused on improving the donor experience and enhancing storage capacity but their management practices are far from adequate. Information technology can be used to create an effective network between blood banks and hospitals. Each blood bank can put blood availability data online. In case of shortage, the requirements of hospitals can then be forwarded to the nearest bank.

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