Desperate dash for donors

Desperate dash for donors

“Your brother’s blood platelet count is dropping fast. Arrange for it immediately.” The doctor’s urgent words put Shankar in absolute despair. Clueless about where to head first, whom to call, he frantically looked around for blood donors. Thousands of fellow citizens were already on search mode.

Spread out across the city, Bengaluru does have voluntary blood donors aplenty. But is there a network that can be easily accessed by people in urgent need? As Dengue, accident numbers and other ailments that require urgent blood transfusion spike, is there a quicker way to get the dots connected?

Shortage gets serious

Blood shortage is a serious issue in many government hospitals in the city. Doctors say most of the collected blood remains with private blood banks. The shortage in some super speciality hospitals such as Kidwai Institute of Oncology is as much as 25%.

The government’s Jeeva Sanjivini portal that tracks blood bank stocks in the city shows a healthy number. But platelet stocks in government hospitals are way below the comfort level. In cancer care hospitals, the blood requirement for chemotherapy is much higher than the supply.

Demand-supply gaps

However, this serious mismatch between demand and supply could be resolved through a few key interventions. For instance, most blood banks and collection centres in hospitals operate only between 10 am and 5 pm. This effectively means, voluntary donors cannot donate at their convenience after their work hours, and recepients cannot receive blood when they need it the most.

The solution is clear: Introduce good blood storage facilities, and do not shut the door for voluntary blood donations even if that means keeping collection centres open for longer hours, as experts in the blood donation field point out.

“Hospitals should store enough blood and not force the patients’ relatives to frantically look for blood or components at the last moment,” notes Dr Latha Jagannathan, Medical Director and Managing Trustee of the Bangalore Medical Services Trust.

Sample testing

Blood donation can never be an eleventh hour desperate process. “After donation, it takes up to 12 to 24 hours to test the sample. Tests such as Hepatitis, Syphilis, Malaria, Nucleic Acid Test. This shortens the window for transfusion. You can’t be forced to go looking around for donors,” she notes.

Donors are required to fill out a stringent questionnaire on their medical condition such as cardiac health and more. “We don’t take any risk. Well-informed voluntary donors answer all the questions truthfully. But the replacement donors, often guided by the desperate need for blood, are not so truthful.”

To avoid this scenario, the government has been promoting voluntary blood donation. Currently, almost 80% of the donors are voluntary. The need now is to drastically reduce the replacement donor numbers. But this is not possible if hospitals continue to force patient relatives.

Blood, a patient’s right

It is the right of the patient to get blood on time. It is the hospital’s duty to make it available. The government rules mandate that. “Hospitals cannot force people to get replacement donors,” says Dr Ankit Mathur, a consultant in Transfusion Medicine and Transplant Immunlogy at the BMST-TTK blood bank.

Over two decades agao, Alphonse Kurien – currently attached t othe Lions Club of Sanjayanagar-- had recognised the challenge of finding donors at short notice. He had put up a database of authentic voluntary donors through a Lions Bloodline in 1996. It has been updated every year.

Registered donors

Today, any blood donor could register on the Bloodline portal ( and be a part of a city-wide network. “Registered members are then added to different WhatsApp groups based on blood group types. If any requirement for blood is received, we alert the respective group,” Kurien explains.

Having analysed the blood donation trends for years, Kurien understands why most hospitals insist on replacement donors. “Even if they have sufficient blood, they ask for a replacement donor for the next patient. But for the relatives, particularly those from outside the city, it is traumatic to find a donor who meets all the requirements.”

Ill-informed relatives

Patient’s relatives are also often not told what the hospital exactly requires. For instance, if Single Donor Platelets (SDP), transfusion of which quickly restores the count, is the requirement, the relatives are not aware of it. Besides, SDP is costlier.

Jayashree Varadharajan, a businesswoman narrates how tough it can get. “Seven years ago, when my mother had to undergo a bypass, doctors had advised to bring 5-6 donors to the hospital, just in case blood was required. It was a humungous effort to identify and bring them, as the required blood group was A -ve.”

Her suggestion for meeting such an emergency: “Everyone must register with a blood bank, giving their blood group. Such a noble service will be remembered forever.”

Social media platforms

For those hooked 24/7 to smartphones, social media could be a game-changer in seeking urgent blood donation. But this platform is notoriously disorganized. Blood donation pleas posted years ago continue to be forwarded without an expiry date. This has created a huge trust deficit.

But a blood donation initiative by Twitter India in March, 2018 offered hope. Hash-tagged #BloodMatters, the initiative was aimed at connecting donors with patients, tweets with action.

To get linked to a blood donor, the person in need just had to place a request with a tweet to Blood Donors India’s Twitter handle @BloodDonorsIN. The tweet had to carry their location hashtag, blood type, mobile contact and Twitter handle. Donors/volunteers keen to help had to follow @BloodDonorsIN and respond or retweet the requests for help.

Eighteen months after the launch, the initiative continues to get donation requests in big numbers. The handle currently has 1.2 million followers. Twitter has now expanded the bloodline’s reach through Twitter Lite, where the data usage is reduced by up to 70%.