As Chennai faces an acute shortage of blood, here’s what you must know

COVID-19 INCIDENTAL: A CRISIS IN BLOOD BANKS

A blood donation camp organised by Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TANSACS) across the state on World Blood Donation Day (June 14). Pic: TANSACS/Twitter

COVID-19 has led to another grave medical crisis in the city. Chennai, a national hub of healthcare, is now reeling under shortage of blood, leaving no option for critically-ill patients but to merely wait indefinitely for their turn. Most rare blood groups are unavailable in all the 19 government and private blood banks in Chennai, according to data from the national web portal e-raktkosh. 


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An analysis of the data shows that washed blood cells, plasma and Bombay blood group are unavailable in the 19 blood banks in Chennai. Another critical component, single donor platelets, is available only in one bank.

The following list indicates the availability of a few blood components in the blood banks in Chennai. 

Blood Bank/ InstitutionAvailability of platelet concentrate (in units)Single donor plateletPacked red blood cellsPhone number
Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Government Hospital for Women and ChildrenNot availableNot availableAvailable, A-Ve:1
044 2530 5301 *
Dr. Rela Institute & Medical CentreNot availableNot availableAvailable, O+Ve:5, B+Ve:599406 80832
Government Stanley HospitalNot availableNot availableAvailable, A+Ve:13, A-Ve:1, B-Ve:3, B+Ve:10, O-Ve:4, O+Ve:9, AB+Ve:16044 2528 4941
Government Rajiv Gandhi Medical College HospitalNot availableNot availableAvailable, AB+Ve:5, B-Ve:3, B+Ve:9, A-Ve:5, O+Ve:2, AB-Ve:2, A+Ve:9, O-Ve:193817 15141
Global HospitalsNot availableAvailable, B+Ve:1Available, B-Ve:2, O-Ve:11, O+Ve:11, AB+Ve:6, AB-Ve:1, A+Ve:3, B+Ve:2, A-Ve:398849 96768, 91710 08986
A.C.S. General Hospital Blood Bank, (Run by Dr.M.G.R. Educational Research Institute)Not availableNot availableAvailable, B+Ve:1, A+Ve:1, B-Ve:1, O+Ve:4044 2680 2199
Institute of Child Health and Hospital for ChildrenGovt Children HospitalNot availableNot availableAvailable, B-Ve:2, A-Ve:1, AB-Ve:2, O-Ve:198416 25135
Sri Ramachandra Medical College & Research InstituteNot availableNot availableNot available044 4592 8561
Hindu Mission HospitalNot availableNot availableAvailable, O+Ve:12, A-Ve:2, B+Ve:7, A+Ve:795000 69646
ISO and Government Kasturba Gandhi Hospital for Women and Children and General HospitalAvailable, O+Ve:8, B+Ve:4, A+Ve:2Not availableAvailable, B+Ve:14, A-Ve:1, A+Ve:14, O+Ve:15, B-Ve:6, O-Ve:3, AB+Ve:6, AB-Ve:1044 2851 5562
Government RSRM HospitalNot availableNot availableNot available044 2590 1665
Tagore Medical College HospitalNot availableNot availableAvailable, B+Ve:2044 3010 1111 *
Government Kilpauk Medical College HospitalAvailable, O+Ve:8, B+Ve:6
Not availableAvailable, A-Ve:198403 13152
Government Peripheral HospitalNot availableNot availableNot available94451 42097
Government Royapettah HospitalAvailable, A+Ve:5, B+Ve:5, AB+Ve:2, O+Ve:1Not availableAvailable, A-Ve:1, O-Ve:1, O+Ve:16, B+Ve:11, AB+Ve:2, A+Ve:10
044 2848 3051 *
The Tamil Nadu Dr.M.G.R.Medical UniversityNot availableNot availableAvailable, B+Ve:1044 2235 3574 *
Billroth Hospitals LimitedNot availableNot availableNot available98410 67775
Madras Egmore Lions Blood Bank And Research FoundationAvailable, A+Ve:6, AB+Ve:1, B+Ve:2, O+Ve:6
Not availableAvailable, O+Ve:346, A+Ve:35, AB+Ve:75, B+Ve:280044 2841 4949
Indian Red Cross Society Blood BankNot availableNot availableAvailable, A-Ve:2, B-Ve:1, O+Ve:23, A+Ve:14, B+Ve:30, AB+Ve:4044 2855 4425,
044 28594888

Source: www.eraktkosh.in; as on June 13 
* The contact numbers are of the hospital and not of the blood bank attached to the institution

Between life and death

For the first time in years, the city which receives a steady amount of blood from donors is staring at dipping reserves. Inevitably, the burden falls on the families of patients to source their requirements from voluntary donors. J Sakthivel had to make numerous calls to friends and acquaintances to arrange blood for his 4-year-old son, S Keerthivasan. Fighting with blood cancer, his son needed 4 units of A positive blood. 

Fortunately the blood was procured, and the first phase of treatment has been completed. “The blood bank of Adyar Cancer Institute helped us get in touch with the volunteers. I posted the requirement on the donors’ WhatsApp group and subsequently the blood was arranged within two days,” says Sakthivel. 

However, not all have been as fortunate as Keerthivasan. Hundreds of blood cancer patients, thalassemia patients, pregnant women, road accident victims and people needing emergency surgeries at government and private hospitals are desperately waiting for blood. Even many children, some barely a few days old, are fighting a tough battle for survival in the face of this acute shortage.

Hailing from Ongole in Andhra Pradesh, Suja, a 50-day-old child, has been diagnosed with blood cancer. The family travelled down to Chennai for the treatment, but non-availability of blood has posed a major obstacle. The family is grappling with two equally grave challenges: one, saving their only child and two, staying safe from the deadly virus. 

Suja’s father Mahesh, who works as a mechanic, says, “It has been a harrowing journey on several fronts — travelling 306 km to a different city, caught in the pandemic, and now desperately seeking blood — all of it has taken a toll on us.” 

Frantic calls to the blood banks have yielded no results till now and the family is now pinning its hopes on volunteers.

Decoding the gap

According to a 2018 report published by the Tamil Nadu State Aids Control Society (TANSACS), of the 844,908 units of blood collected by Tamil Nadu annually, 93% comes through voluntary donation. The report further noted that Chennai district has the maximum number (14%) of blood banks in Tamil Nadu.

A senior doctor working in a government hospital in Chennai estimates that the stock of blood in government-run banks in Chennai have come down by at least 60% during the past three months. His claim is also supported by the data from e-raktkosh that revealed the unavailability of blood components.

The primary reasons for the dip in blood reserves are as follows: 

The demand for blood rose extensively in the past three months, as blood is also needed for COVID treatment in some cases. Platelet Club in Chennai which used to donate around 25-30 units daily, until three months ago, faces regular demand for 50 units now. “Every day, at least 10-20 new requests for blood come in. The demand is attributed to a slew of factors, such as unavailability of regular donors because of the lockdown,” said Srivatsan Verma, founder of Platelet Club.   

Travel restrictions during the lockdown and fear of the disease have significantlt thwarted Chennai’s network of dedicated blood donors. Working hand-in-hand with hospitals and organisations, these are the people who donate not just during an emergency, but on a regular basis in normal times.

“I donate blood once in three months and platelets every month. Four out of 10 patients undergoing treatment for cancer and kidney-related ailments need platelet transfusion,” said Vignesh Mani, a regular donor for the past four years. However, due to the lockdown, he has not been able to donate since the past three months.

Suspension of blood donation camps is another reason. It should be noted that NGOs, colleges and IT firms organise regular blood donation camps in the city, which has been temporarily suspended in view of the conditions created by the lockdown and concerns over physical distancing.  

The availability of blood in government-run banks in Chennai have come down by at least 60% over the past three months.   

A senior doctor working in a public hospital in the city

How can you help?

In view of the critical situation, TANSACS is organising blood donation camps across the state by following the norms of COVID-19. But the volume of bloodstock has not increased significantly, indicating that the city is far from an adequate supply situation. 

But Chennai should perhaps also take some lessons from other cities. For example, the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) in New Delhi has begun pick and drop service for donors and has set up a 24*7 control room-helpline for people who are in need. Can’t Tamil Nadu replicate the strategy?

Unfortunately, sources in TANSACS say that it is unfeasible to deploy workers for collection from residences, as they do not have sufficient staff strength for the exercise. 

The demand for blood is likely to shoot up further, once normal medical consultations resume. And the only way to bridge the gap is through massive donation drives, say medical experts.

“Volunteers should be encouraged to donate blood by taking precautions. Mass donors can be assembled in a sanitised place for donation drives,” said Dr S Poongulali, Senior Consultant and Head – Clinic Operations, VHS Infectious Diseases Medical Centre, VHS.

Who can donate blood?

Volunteers having COVID symptoms, travel history and located in containment zones must refrain from donating blood. Otherwise, any healthy person (male and female) with clean habits aged between 18 and 65 can donate blood once in 3 months regularly. 

What precautions should one take? 

Volunteers willing to donate blood are suggested to wear a mask, adhere to the distancing protocols at the site, wash hands on entering the hospital and sanitise well. 

Whom to contact?

Willing donors can walk into any hospital or blood bank in the city to donate blood.

TANSACS regularly conducts blood donation drives in the city. For details, visit here.
Srivatsan, coordinating with emergency blood needs, can be reached at 93810 05254 or 984066 3929. He can be contacted to help severely-ill patients who need blood.

(Inputs sourced from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare guidelines)

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About Bhavani Prabhakar 75 Articles
Bhavani Prabhakar is Staff Reporter at Citizen Matters Chennai. She tweets at @_bhavaniprabha

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