Patients find it harder to access blood transfusions during nationwide lockdown

19 April 2020
According to the National Health Mission’s e-Rakt Kosh database, the number of camps fell from 606 in January to 369 in March, and only 81 in April. The number of blood donations fell from 38,207 in February to 7,981 in April.
NOAH SEELAM / AFP / Getty Images
According to the National Health Mission’s e-Rakt Kosh database, the number of camps fell from 606 in January to 369 in March, and only 81 in April. The number of blood donations fell from 38,207 in February to 7,981 in April.
NOAH SEELAM / AFP / Getty Images

Pratima Mukherjee is in dire need of four units of AB-positive blood. The 31-year-old resident of a village near Kharagpur, in West Bengal, has cancer and requires regular blood transfusions, but the lockdown ordered by the central government following the COVID-19 pandemic has made this difficult. Biswajit Pandit, her brother, has visited multiple blood banks in Kharagpur and Kolkata, but has been unable to procure blood. “The extension of the lockdown till the beginning of May will make it even more difficult,” he told me.

Ashok Singh, a native of Darbhanga in Bihar, is undergoing dialysis and required two units of A-positive blood on 12 April. “The blood bank at the Darbhanga Medical College hospital is shut because the entire system has reoriented towards COVID-19,” Prabhakar Kumar, his son-in-law, told me. “The others that I tried insisted that the blood must be procured fresh from his relatives.” Singh’s son and another relative donated a unit each. He had a dialysis appointment at Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences on 21 March, but had to postpone it once the janata curfew was announced for the following day. The family had to settle for treatment at a private hospital in Darbhanga.

Kiran Kumar, a resident of Ongole in Andhra Pradesh, needs a unit of blood for his niece, who is about to deliver a child. “She needs A-negative, which is a rare group in any case, and the lockdown makes it more difficult,” he said. “We went to three blood banks, but didn’t find any.” He has circulated the details on social media, hoping someone will help.

Blood transfusions are necessary for people with diseases such as thalassemia and cancer, as well as for procedures such as kidney transplants and certain kinds of deliveries. While the nationwide lockdown—initially for 21 days and then extended for another 19 days—has reduced the demand for blood, due to a major reduction in traumatic injuries such as road accidents, it has become more difficult to procure blood for those who need it.

With the entire medical system geared for the fight against the coronavirus, non-essential surgeries and procedures have been put on hold. Donors stay at home, and the number of blood-donation camps has plummeted. According to the National Health Mission’s e-Rakt Kosh database, the number of camps fell from 606 in January to 369 in March, and only 81 in April. The number of blood donations fell from 38,207 in February to 7,981 in April.

Tushar Dhara is a reporting fellow with The Caravan. He has previously worked with Bloomberg News, Indian Express and Firstpost and as a mazdoor with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan.

Keywords: cancer COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown
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