Despite all the medical advancements we have seen over the years that have improved our quality of life, the improper storage of blood, an indispensable and irreplaceable resource, continues to cost lives.
I was lost for words after hearing about an incident where a blood bag was packed with excess ice, for extra caution by a well-intentioned technician leading to fatal consequences. As tragic as this is, it is not an anomaly.
The need for blood and blood products is constant. Patients with cancer, blood disorders, those undergoing surgeries, or even people undergoing regular medical procedures require blood transfusions.
In emergencies, such as accidents or natural disasters, access to safe blood often draws the line between life and death.
Standard Practices For Blood Management Needed
A 2021 study shows that India needs around 1.5 crore units of blood each year but collects close to 1.1 crore units, indicating a deficit of 40 lakh.
Consistent efforts have been made over the years to close this gap. For instance, the government has encouraged people to donate blood through donation drives and created innovative platforms, such as the E-Rakt Kosh portal that digitises the entire blood management system in India.
However, challenges in blood management persist.
Improper storage and
Improper transport facilities and
Lack of training among health care professionals who handle blood
These are crucial to address as temperature control is the most important part of the vein-to-vein journey. Blood needs to be kept between 2°C and 6°C to remain viable; certain components such as plasma require a lower temperature (-27°C) for long-term storage.
Any fluctuations outside the required range can compromise the integrity of the blood and lead to spoilage – this applies not only to donated blood and plasma but also to blood samples collected for disease testing.
Without proper storage and transport, we break an essential link in the chain of diagnosis and treatment. We lose the viability of this essential commodity, which is already in limited supply.
As doctors and medical professionals, we often get hamstrung when transportation challenges lead to the delivery of poor-quality products, thus derailing our ability to provide the required life-saving treatment.
We still see blood kept in improper containers instead of medical-grade transport boxes, which lack the ability to maintain the required temperature.
'Push For More Stringent Policies'
Landmark steps have been taken in terms of the regulatory position for effective blood management.
The Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) made it mandatory for all Class-B refrigeration to come under the licensing regime from 1 October 2022. It now becomes key to ensure wide adherence and in cases where oversights remain, the development of new protocols.
Healthcare professionals and policymakers must work together to push for more stringent policies and regulations that look at both the proper storage and transport aspects of blood.
Through this, the entire vein-to-vein journey can be safeguarded to meet the needs of patients and to ensure that blood is readily available when needed.
They also need to urge for comprehensive standard operating procedures (SOPs) for temperature monitoring and management. For adherence, it will be important to raise awareness among healthcare professionals and others handling these critical samples through trainings or workshops.
'Can't Overlook Importance Of Blood Management Anymore'
In conclusion, the issue of blood storage and transportation is an essential aspect of healthcare that can no longer be overlooked or prioritised just during emergencies.
The proper storage and transportation of blood can help reduce healthcare costs by minimising waste and ensuring that blood is not discarded due to damage during transport.
The adoption of proven, certified, and quality innovations can help avoid the spoilage of blood.
Contact shock freezers for quick freezing and subsequent storage
Remote monitoring devices for blood traceability
Solar-powered refrigerators for far-flung areas
This scaling would need to be complemented by building the capacity of health professionals to operate the devices and improve the delivery of care.
As per data,
Every two seconds, a person needs blood in India
One out of every three people needs blood in lifetime
Blood collection is the first step and our relentless efforts to improve supply must continue. We need to prioritise blood management and hone our existing efforts and solutions today to make sure that we all have access to safe blood tomorrow.
(Dr Rajesh Sawant is a consultant – transfusion medicine – at Mumbai's Kokilaben Hospital. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)