Wasting blood, a huge crime

The huge quantity of blood that is being wasted nationwide is a matter of grave concern. And Karnataka is among the worst offenders in the country in this regard. Of the roughly 7,87,330 units of blood that were collected in Karnataka in 2016-17, some 64,913 units or around 8.6% was wasted, Health Minister B N Vijay Kumar told the Assembly recently. Nationwide figures are no less disheartening. Over 28 lakh litres of blood were discarded by blood banks across the country over the past five years. Karnataka is also among the top three states when it comes to wastage of red blood cells and stands second to wastage of fresh frozen plasma.

Blood is a precious commodity; it is central to keep living systems going. It cannot be artificially manufactured. Hence, blood donation is the only source. It is all the more precious in a country like India where most people are reluctant to donate blood. India needs around 1.3 crore units of blood per year and it is able to collect around 90 lakh units only. Due to the shortfall, thousands of people waiting for blood transfusions whether due to surgery or thalassemia have to wait for blood. It is therefore unconscionable that such vast quantities of blood are literally going down the drain. A breakdown of the wastage in Karnataka provides some useful insights. Over half of the wasted blood in 2016-17 couldn’t be used as it was outdated, another sixth was discarded as it was infected with HIV, Hepatitis B etc, and the rest was found to be haemolysed, clotted, etc. Blood donation activists say that some wastage of blood is inevitable and so the problem must not be blown out of proportion. This is true. A high decibel campaign on blood wastage would deter people from coming forward to donate blood.

However, there is a problem that needs fixing too and health authorities in the government and private sector as well as blood banks need to address it. Health experts say that one of the main issues underlying Karnataka’s huge wastage is the absence of a centralised blood transfusion system in the state. A well-coordinated sharing network between blood banks and hospitals, and between banks in urban and rural India and storage facilities for blood, is urgently needed. It is important too that the authorities regularly monitor blood banks to ensure that they do not allow blood to become outdated. Blood that is approaching its expiry date should be moved to places where it can be used quickly. Blood wastage cannot be eliminated fully but it can be reduced and that must be done immediately.
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