Virus lockdowns: Thousands of Pakistani children at risk as blood banks run dry

In this file photo, children suffering from Thalassaemia undergo a blood transfusion process at a blood donation center in Lahore on Dec. 5, 2014. (REUTERS)
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Updated 27 March 2020

Virus lockdowns: Thousands of Pakistani children at risk as blood banks run dry

  • Nearly 100,000 children suffering from thalassemia require regular blood transfusion in the country
  • Blood banks frequently set up camps in universities, collages, factories and corporate offices that remain close for now

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.

35 percent Pakistanis say coronavirus pandemic has reduced incomes — survey

Updated 22 September 2020

35 percent Pakistanis say coronavirus pandemic has reduced incomes — survey

  • Labor experts say a large number of workers laid off by their organizations in the name of social distancing
  • Standard Chartered Bank survey shows 87 percent respondents said they were willing to adapt to emerging environment by using more technology

KARACHI: The coronavirus pandemic has reduced incomes for at least 35 percent of Pakistanis, a survey conducted by a leading international bank said, while a large number of people had lost their livelihoods to the virus.
According to an online study carried out by Standard Chartered Bank, one-third or 35 percent of Pakistanis, including 36 percent of the country’s youth, reported a reduction in their salaries.
The study was conducted in July this year in 12 different markets, including the United States, United Kingdom, India and China. Its findings were released last week.
The study involved 12,000 individuals above the age of 18, Farhan Ahmed, the bank’s communications head in Pakistan, told Arab News on Tuesday. Among the respondents were 1,000 Pakistanis from various urban centers working in different fields, he said.
The survey showed that 88 percent people preferred to work harder for a fewer number of hours and less pay, while 72 percent were looking for a second source of earning to add to their income stream. Over 50 percent anticipated major changes in the next three to six months, with 48 percent expecting reduced pay and 49 percent fearing redundancy.
“Business owners have found a plausible excuse to cut down workforce in the name of implementing the prescribed precautionary measures that require fewer people to operate in a given space,” Nasir Mansoor, deputy general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation Pakistan, told Arab News.
“In the first place, people over 50 years of age were asked not to come to work,” he said. “These senior employees did not get their salaries and other benefits. After that, organizations relieved a majority of their workforce in the name of social distancing. In such cases, they reduced the number of employees by about 50 percent. The remaining staff was either laid off or retained without pay.”
In April, the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), a government entity, projected that the coronavirus pandemic, ensuing lockdowns, and falling growth rates were likely to drive between 12.3 million and 18.5 million people out of jobs.
“Such estimates inadvertently downplay the actual impact of the economic downturn since they usually focus on small regions or areas of economy. It should be clear that even the primary sectors, such as agriculture, manufacturing and mining etc., have also suffered a lot,” Dr. Vaqar Ahmed, joint executive director of Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News. “The second wave of virus is already hitting our trade partners in the West and that will make current estimates outdated in the coming days.”
According to Farhan Ahmed of Standard Chartered Bank, 87 percent of survey respondents said they were willing to adapt to the emerging environment by using more technology. Similarly, 83 percent respondents were confident they had the necessary skills to thrive in an increasingly digital world and were willing to explore greater opportunities by working more relentlessly in the post-COVID-19 environment.
Sixty-six percent people also said they wanted to start new businesses.
“There are many opportunities emerging for our youth who are willing to adapt,” Ahmed said. “The changing business models are providing opportunities to urban and rural dwellers alike.”