While coronavirus cases are being treated on priority and all elective surgeries have been put on hold, the demand for blood has been massive but the lockdown and the pandemic has curbed the supply in Chennai.As on 25 June, there are 70,977 COVID-19 cases reported in Tamil Nadu, of which 47,650 cases are from Chennai.
Chennai is on a complete lockdown from 19 - 30 June which has made the situation even more problematic.
The Quint spoke to patients, managers of blood banks, doctors and NGOs to understand how Chennai is now facing a shortage of blood supply, especially for the critically-ill patients.
Read about how there is a dearth of hospital beds and staff for COVID-19 patients in Chennai here.
‘Website Not Reliable’
As per the data from the national web portal e-raktkosh, of the 19 government and private blood banks in Chennai, five blood banks have no stock of whole blood. As for the other blood banks, there are hardly one or two units of rare blood groups that are available.
However, when The Quint reached out to patients and heads of private hospitals, they said that the website was not up-to-date and that they wouldn’t recommend that patients refer to it to check for availability.
“The website is just not realistic, there is no real-time clocking and we don’t have enough staff to be updating, instead of treating,” Dr Sameer Mehta, convenor at Dr Mehta’s Hospital told The Quint.
“Blood supply has become problematic. Continuity and security of supply can be assured only by multiplying supply chains.”Dr Sameer Mehta, Convenor, Dr Mehta’s Hospital to The Quint
A parent told how when he logged on to the website to procure blood for his 10-year-old son who was undergoing an emergency procedure, he was quite disappointed seeing how there was not enough units available. However, he said NGOs in the city arranged for blood in a day’s time.
Dr Mehta pointed out that many smaller blood banks have shut down because of lack of staff members.
There are hospitals who have even shut down all their operations because of the government’s directive to undertake only COVID and emergency operations, that their blood banks are the only way of earning.
‘More Than 50% Requirements Not Met’
While the demand for blood for surgeries has dropped, blood units are required in a steady pace for blood transfusion for cancer and other illnesses and platelet count for dengue, Dr Mehta pointed out.
“There is clear shortage. The need for blood is rising by the day. Rajiv Gandhi Government hospital, Egmore Children’s hospital would need at least 30 units of blood everyday. And then you have thalassemia patients as well. Huge demand is there but we don’t have donors coming forward. So a few of us volunteers have been donating over and over again,” Sindhuraam of Care and Welfare Foundation said.
Srivatsan of Platelet Club who has been organising blood for government hospitals in Chennai told that they receive 200-250 requests from Rajiv Gandhi government hospital alone every day.
At least 20-30 requests, that accounts to 40% in all, are of those who work in IT companies who are urged to convince their colleagues to come forward and donate, he said. Then there are non-Chennai residents, who don’t have contacts in town. These persons used to earlier reach out to potential donors on social media platforms, arrange transport and bring them to the blood bank but now with the lockdown, even that has gone out of question.
“And everyday we get at least 10-15 requests from families from remote villages who don’t even have a cellphone. So we prioritise them and based on the emergency need, we extend our help,” said Srivatsan.
“Earlier if we get 35, 50 or even 60 requests, we will ensure to complete all of them. But nowadays more than 50% of the requests have a ‘Requirement not met’ written against them.”Sindhuraam of Care and Welfare Foundation
“One day, we got 17 requests and we fulfilled 13. And on another day, we got 11 requests and we could fulfil just two and that was us main volunteers. In fact, when the news of the spike in cases due to Koyambedu market came out, we got nobody to donate as no one was stepping out,” he added.
Reasons for No Donors : Fear, No Private Vehicle,
The primary reason for dip in supply is the fear amongst people that they might contract coronavirus if they enter a hospital ward.
“Many people have left to their hometowns so that has brought down the number of donors in Chennai,” said Sindhuraam of Care and Welfare Foundation.
“Earlier 18-25 year old men and women were our main voluntary donors who could just hop on their bikes and come very frequently. But today, they have to ask their parents for permission who are obviously telling them to pause the charity work and stay at home. Earlier, if a volunteer’s father was not allowing them to go out, I could speak to him and convince him. But now I can’t assure that corona won’t come home,” he added.
Leo of the NGO ‘Pretty Lil Hearts,’ who has arranged for blood for over 13 pregnant women in the past three months, told how they have been using social media and their existing database to reach out to donors.
Sindhuraam gave a detailed account of how the process works now : First, the donor is asked to fill up a form, then wash his hands. His weight is then checked and he is made to sanitise again. Then the medical staff run customary checks for jaundice and other illnesses. Before the blood is taken, if the patient has touched any surface, he is asked to sanitise his hands again. While this process only ensures hygiene during this pandemic, it makes the donor anxious and panic, he pointed out.
Sindhuraam said how during the pre-COVID times, they used to have a plethora of eager volunteers, but not anymore.
“I know volunteers who would not be afraid to paint outdoors in the middle of the night but now everything had changed.”Sindhuraam of Care and Welfare Foundation
This is a list of Do’s and Don’t’s sent by Platelet Club to all donors to ensure their safety:
Private Blood Banks Levy Exorbitant Rates
One of the first questions asked by every donor and receiver is if the COVID test mandatory and can the virus be transmitted through the blood stream.
A senior virologist from one of the top hospitals in the country stated that while there is still no conclusive proof, due precautions need to be taken.A patient who has visible symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat will not be allowed to donate, apart from the prerequisite conditions of the adequate weight.
A few donors told how the blood bank calls them up for five days after the donation to check on their health and see if they are showing any coronavirus-related symptoms.
A few doctors also pointed out that economics won’t work out as a COVID-19 test would costs Rs 2,600-Rs 4,800 and a donor or patient can’t be asked to pay as much.
Every single volunteer had one request to the public:
“People of Chennai, please come forward to donate blood because this is of dire need now and make sure to do this directly at government hospitals and not blood banks.”
Many pointed out how private blood banks have been capitalising on the demand and charging patients exorbitantly.
“The government guidelines dictate that you can charge Rs 858 for running preliminary tests on a blood sample to deem it fit. However, many are charging Rs 3,000- Rs 4,500 for a single unit of blood,” said a volunteer.
Strict Lockdown Guidelines, Police Patrol Pushes Donors Back Home
Following a massive spike in cases in Chennai, the lockdown restrictions have been very strict this June. Volunteers said that many people, after watching “videos of police beating up even doctors who are stepping out during the lockdown and seizure of vehicles of those who said they were going to donate blood” are hesitating to come forward.
A few donors complained that even when they shared the patient and doctor details and urged the cops to call them to cross-check, the police personnel refused to do so and even levied a fine in some cases.
To counter this problem, many blood banks have now asked hospitals to send a image of an e-pass via Whatsapp to the donor which can be shown to the cops.
Platelet Club has come up with a ‘PC Captain Support’ initiative by which they send a person to pick up the donor, take him to the blood bank and drop him back.