HYDERABAD: The next time somebody from your family requires blood transfusion, cross your heart. The chances are that the blood procured from a blood bank will not be free of viruses that can cause deadly infections. “It’s a bloody mess at the state’s blood banks and only a few well-known names are free of problems,” said a source familiar with the state of affairs. “Many unsuspecting patients contract deadly disease like HIV and Hepatitis B and C because of blood transfusions,” he added.
The worst hit are those who need blood routinely, such as children suffering from thalassemia. In the last four years as many as eight thalassemic children contracted HIV and Hepatitis C & B infections during the course of blood transfusion. Rajesh Popli, secretary, Society for Thalassemics, says that at least five thalassemic children tested positive for HIV in the last two years alone. “As per our information, these children are from Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, Nizamabad, Medak and Krishna,” said Popli.
That the stock of blood in many banks is suspect is corroborated by the government itself. The Drug Control Administration’s recent state-wide survey of 219 blood banks found that just about a handful of them met the quality standards. The lapses included non-functioning air conditioners and the use of “rapid testing techniques” by most banks (to reduce the cost of screening) which could miss detecting these fatal infections.
“We found that around five blood banks of the total 219 were following the quality standards,” said a DCA top official, adding that notices were being issued to the erring banks to beef up their standards. And that’s all in the form of punishment for these banks!
As per norms, blood should be screened for communicable diseases including HIV I & II, Hepatitis C & B, malarial parasite and Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) test. “The problems are cropping up because of the absence of technically qualified persons. Pathologists are mandatory but many are unwilling to work in blood banks. Besides, blood screening costs are high,” said Dr V Saraswati, who is with NTR Blood Bank, which doctors say complies with most standards (along with Chiranjeevi Blood Bank). Some blood banks, as per the DCA survey, were even found lacking equipment.
While pathologists are meant to declare blood ‘safe’ for use, they prefer working with hospitals over blood banks. The banks are also wary of hiring them because of the high salaries they demand. Focused on cutting cost of screening processes, blood banks flourish thanks to an indifferent government. Worse, the government shies away from introducing tests that could help such as the PCR test which can detect infections even during the window period (the period from the time of contracting infection to testing positive for it). “The PCR test charges range between Rs 2,000 to 3,000 per test and it is not feasible to do this test on lakhs of units,” said an official from AP State Aids Control Society.