KARACHI: With near-total lockdowns across the country to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Pakistan’s blood banks are running dry, posing a grave threat to the lives of thousands of children suffering from thalassemia and other blood disorders, concerned stakeholders said on Wednesday.
Most blood banks are facing acute shortage of supply as various communities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) find it increasingly difficult to organize blood donation camps and donors are not able to reach the banks on their own amid the ongoing lockdowns across the country.
“The situation is taking a very dangerous turn because our stock of blood is drying up and it is very difficult to find donors who are willing to volunteer in the current situation. We are forced to turn back many children due to a lack of blood availability,” Iqbal Kasmani, CEO of Saylani Blood Bank and Thalassemia Center, told Arab News on Wednesday.
The Saylani Blood Bank caters to the blood requirement of 475 children suffering from thalassemia, a blood disorder passed down through families. “Our requirement is 25 blood bags per day, but this has drastically dropped to seven or eight since the lockdown,” Kasmani added.
Pakistan has about 100,000 thalassemia patients, including 25,000 in Sindh and 18,000 in Balochistan, whose lives depend on regular blood transfusion. The blood supply is managed by NGOs and community organizations who frequently set up camps in universities, colleges, factories and corporate offices that are currently closed due to the COVID-19 situation.
“It is more than a month that universities and education institutes are closed. We are now below the red line which means that we don’t have enough blood stocks for emergencies,” Dr. Saqib Hussain Ansari, a haematologist and member of the Executive Council of Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA), warned.
“The country needs around 150,000 units of blood every month only for the children suffering from thalassemia. The post-delivery blood requirements of women and other patients are in addition to that,” Dr. Ansari informed adding: “Even in normal days, the banks operate at 50 percent capacity.”
To cope with the situation, blood banks have started door-to-door campaigns and sending teams on donors’ call. “One of our teams is currently on its way to collect blood from a donor family that contacted us via phone in response to our SOS calls,” Muhammad Akbar, Manager at Omair Sana Foundation, a thalassemia center, told Arab News.
“Yesterday [Tuesday] we had to manage the situation as only three volunteers and our two doctors donated blood. Out of 400 children, 10 to 15 receive blood transfusion every day, but now we are compelled to send many of them back due to the situation,” Akbar said, adding that blood stock could not be maintained due to more recipients and less donors.
Apart from the lockdowns, the fear of coronavirus is also deterring people from donating blood. “Most people believe their immunity levels will drop by donating blood, making them more vulnerable to the virus,” Abdul Munim Khan, Chief Administrator of Lahore-based Thalassemia Society of Pakistan, told Arab news.
The Thalassemia Society of Pakistan located in the famous Sir Ganga Ram Hospital provides transfusion services to 2,500 children. “Today [Wednesday] we were able to transfuse blood to 50 children against a daily routine of 80 or more,” Khan said, adding: “Law enforcement personnel deployed for lockdown are not cooperating with donors. Otherwise, this problem can be minimized.”
All the organizers of blood banks contacted by Arab News warned of looming tragedies if appropriate measures were not taken to ensure smooth supply of blood to children.
Blood bank are also concerned about the arrival of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan when blood donations traditionally decline, though this month in the lunar Islamic calendar is also a major source of revenue generation for them as a majority of Muslims increase financial donations to charities for spiritual reasons.