ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Drawing Blood

Blood collection and transfusion services in India need urgent attention.

If you overprice a commodity, will it check malfeasance? The National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) appears to believe so, given its proposal to raise the price of blood per unit by 140%. What this is certain to do is to make it impossible for poor people to access blood banks. What is not so obvious is whether it will check the contamination of blood supplies because blood banks presently do not have proper testing and storage facilities. It is no doubt the absence of quality testing and storage that has led to several cases of recipients of blood transfusions in India contracting Hepatitis B and C and getting infected with HIV. In 2010 and 2011, there were two major cases of 56 and 23 thalassaemic poor children in Rajasthan and Gujarat, respectively, suffering this fate following free transfusions. The rationale of the NACO proposal seems to be that since blood banks do not have the proper facilities to store blood or the equipment to test the purity of the blood they receive, higher prices for blood will give them the necessary funds to set up these facilities. But this `sees the larger issue of blood donation and blood banks in a narrow perspective, for it is also critically important to encourage voluntary donation by healthy individuals, end unethical practices by blood banks and streamline collection, storage and distribution.

NACO did make a start by drafting the National Blood Transfusion Authority (NBTA) Bill in 2007 to establish a body that would have ensured that all procedures connected with blood collection and transfusion are monitored and coordinated. It was also expected to ensure proper implementation of the national blood policy and the national blood programme. However, the bill was criticised in various quarters and appears to have been abandoned. So despite the issue being literally a matter of life and death for patients, especially those who are poor, the government has not come forward with suitable legislation.

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