Seven-year-old Amir’s* family considers themselves fortunate. Despite blood banks facing shortage of blood supply, the family has managed to arrange for blood which was required to speed up the treatment he was undergoing at the Institute of Child Health and Hospital in Egmore.
Amir had to undergo chemotherapy, and amid the lockdown the family struggled to bring him to the hospital because of the lack of transportation and little money they had on hand. Further, on arriving at the hospital, the doctors informed them that they had to arrange for blood for his treatment.
“The hospital authorities told us that they can arrange for blood but the treatment process may get delayed. So they told us to arrange for blood. I didn’t want to take a risk during the coronavirus crisis by delaying the treatment. I wanted my son to get cured and discharged home soon. Hence I requested all my friends to come and provide O positive blood. The blood was not a rare category so people came forward to help. We took a day to arrange for the blood,” said Amir’s father to TNM.
Blood banks are facing a shortage of blood supply forcing recipients in need to wait for days. Even commonly found blood groups, like Amir’s, which were more easily available prior to the lockdown, are increasingly difficult to come by. Many hospital authorities have begun telling patients to arrange for their own donors. The shortage in the blood storage amount of the blood banks also pushes people to search for donors in the midst of a pandemic.
Those travelling to the city from other districts are the worst affected, said Amir’s father, “They come here without knowing anyone just for the sake of treatment. All the donors they know are from their districts. The donors cannot come due to the lockdown. In those scenarios, they are left to wait till the hospitals arrange for blood. There was one more patient who needed O positive and they could not arrange, so finally I helped them arrange for it.”
Similarly, Ramakrishnan who had to undergo a bypass surgery too was finding it difficult to arrange for the A negative blood required for a transfusion.
“The hospital informed us that due to the lockdown they are finding it difficult to arrange for blood. They asked us to arrange for 6 to 7 donors. We tried approaching different blood banks but were told to wait. We then sought the help of volunteers through whom we were able to arrange blood within two days. Luckily we had been informed 3 days before the surgery that we needed to arrange for the blood on our, but if it had been an emergency then we would have found it very difficult,” says Ramakrishnan’s relative Sathya.
On the other hand, arranging large quantities of blood during this time is proving to be difficult.
“The blood banks can store blood only for up to two months. As it has already been two months since the lockdown period started, blood banks need new donors to come forward and give blood. The blood banks usually get blood from camps, however, due to the lockdown only the regular donors are providing blood resulting in the lack of availability. People are unable to move from one district to another so those willing to give should only go to the blood banks in their respective district. Because of the current pandemic, blood banks located on hospital premises are finding that many do not want to go to a hospital as the donor is afraid of falling sick,” said Ismail, a blood donor and a volunteer arranging blood.
“The hospitals tell us to arrange one or two units of blood but sometimes when there is excess bleeding this increases the need for blood, in those emergency situations we are unable to arrange blood for the donor,” he said.
As the hospitals have also started arranging for surgeries the demand for blood has also increased resulting in a shortage, said an employee with a blood bank in Chennai.
“The blood is available but there is a shortage in certain types of blood. When compared to normal days since it is a pandemic definitely there will be a lesser amount of blood available. The youngsters including college students and IT employees are the major blood donors but as they are unable to move around to donate blood there is less stock,” said an employee with the Lions Blood Bank.
Rajesh Dhanya, a member of Sankalpa Foundation’s Bombay Blood Group network, a volunteer organisation which arranges blood, also noted that there has been a sharp increase in demand for blood donors.
“The need for the blood has gone up as there is more requirement now that lockdown restrictions have eased. Unfortunately the gap between availability and requirement is more. Until three weeks ago it was not as much of a problem as only patients with Thalassemia or certain types of cancer were the ones who were regularly in need of blood for transfusions,” she says.
“However, now the reserves have been exhausted and we are finding it difficult to provide blood to those who require it. We are also unable to conduct blood donation camps as IT parks and colleges don’t function. The industries are trying to get back on track with 50% workforce so we cannot ask them to donate blood. So the supply-demand gap has definitely increased.”