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.


Coronavirus takes toll on Pakistani entertainment industry as major Eid films shelved

Updated 30 March 2020

Coronavirus takes toll on Pakistani entertainment industry as major Eid films shelved

  • Several projects postponed amid coronavirus shutdowns
  • Producers and directors say no option but to move release dates forward

KARACHI: With almost every major sector across the world impacted by the deadly coronavirus outbreak, Pakistan's film industry, too, has taken a beating, with multiple films shelved or postponed due to the ongoing lockdown in the country.
As compared to last year, several big-budget films were slated for release this year, with some in the post-production stage, while work on others had just begun but had to be halted indefinitely.
One such film is ‘Intezaar’ which was set to be released on March 20 but had to be postponed due to the closure of cinemas across the country.
Two films, ‘The Legend Of Maula Jatt’, and ‘Titch Button’, were scheduled for release on Eid-ul-Fitr, while two other movies, 'Zarrar’ and ‘Money Back Guarantee,’ were ready to announce their release dates. 
All in all, the entire industry seems to be in dire straits. Some of the films adversely impacted by the situation are:
'London Nahin Jaonga,' produced by Six Sigma and ARY Films and directed by Nadeem Baig, is a likely sequel of 2017's super-hit film, ‘Punjab Nahin Jaongi.’
Starring Humayun Saeed, Mehwish Hayat, and Kubra Khan in the lead roles, work on 70 percent of the film had been completed in Pakistan, with the remainder of the shooting slotted for London next month.

Talking to Arab News, Irfan Malik, Head of ARY Films, said: “We had planned our spell of London shooting in mid of April, but in these situations, it seems impossible as conditions in the UK are more severe than ours.” 

He added that moving the set's location had come up for discussion, but would not be practical as the script requires many scenes to be shot in London. 

“We are ready and closely watching the situation as the lockdown in Pakistan might end next week," he said, adding if they couldn't resume work next month, the film's "release will definitely be delayed (even if cinemas are open)."
"We have targeted to release it in 2020,” he said.

Another movie that has piqued everyone's interest was 'Ghabrana Nahi Hai,' an action-comedy produced by Mastermind Films and JB Films.
With the title inspired by one of Prime Minister Imran Khan's most-used phrases, the film is written by Mohsin Ali and directed by Saqib Khan and stars Saba Qamar, Zahid Ahmed, and Syed Jibran in the lead roles.

Talking about the status of the film, Hasan Zia, one of the producers and owner of Mastermind Films, told Arab News that work would resume as soon as the conditions became normal. For now, his team has already completed three days of shooting.

"Keeping the current situation in mind, our priority is only to complete the film first, hence no release date has been finalized," he said.

Another Saba Qamar-starrer named 'Kamli' is a tragic love story inspired by Punjabi folklore. Produced and directed by critically-acclaimed Sarmad Khosat, work on the film had begun in December last year and was set to be completed soon. The lockdown, however, has placed a question mark on its future.

Meanwhile, 'Chakkar,' produced and directed by Yasir Nawaz – and starring Ahsan Kahn and Neelam Muneer and Yasir Nawaz – is a thriller-comedy, the partial shoot for which has been completed, too.

Nawaz told Arab News that they had shot for six days for the first part of the film while the next two parts were scheduled for April and May.

He was hopeful that things would normalize by mid-April, following which they would be able to resume work on the film. If not, they would push the dates to June or the month after, adding that he had already requested his cast to keep their schedules free in June.

Talking about the release of the film, Yasir said: "Initially, we had planned to release our film somewhere between Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha, but now we can’t say anything about this.” 
Equally impacted is 'Parde Mein Rehne Do,' a social comedy produced by Zayed Sheikh, written by Mohsin Ali and directed by Wajahat Rauf.

With Hania Amir and Ali Rehman Khan as the main protagonists, the film is based in Karachi, with 50 percent of its work completed in Pakistan's financial capital.

However, with the restriction of movement created by the lockdown, Rauf said they had stopped all work on the film but were taking steps to ensure that the move impacted none of the staff.

“Hopefully, if everything gets normal after May as announced by the government, we will resume our shoot and will complete it in almost 15 days. The edit will take another couple of months so that it will be ready in September or October, and I hope it will get released by the end of the year," he said.

Close on the heels of 'Parde Mein Rehne Do' is 'Fat Man,' a social drama produced by renowned female producer Fizza Ali Meerza, directed by Nabeel Qureshi, and starring Ahmed Ali Butt in the lead role.

Meerza told Arab News that even if the situation resumed normalcy after May, it would not be a wise decision to shoot in June and July in Pakistan. Therefore, they will not be able to start the shoot before October.

Keeping her team busy, however, was Fahad Mustafa and Mahira Khan-starrer, 'Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad,' the editing for which is underway at the moment.

“Luckily, we have completed our shoot for Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad and have shifted the editing at our place and are working from home. If everything gets normal after a couple of months, we will release the film on its original date, which is Eid ul Adha.”
One of Pakistan's highly-anticipated films is 'Neelofar,' with fans waiting with bated breath to watch their favorite onscreen couple, Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan, reunite after 2011, when they both catapulted to fame with the release of the cult drama serial, 'Humsafar.'

The film is produced by Fawad Khan and directed by Ammar Rasool, who has also written the script under Fawad's supervision.

Sheikh Amjad Rasheed, Chairman IMGC Global Films, the distributor of 'Neelofar,' said that the film was shot entirely in Lahore and was now in the post-production phase. He added that they would announce a release date as soon as the situation permitted.

Close on its heels is another film, 'Dum Mastam,' the first to be produced by veteran actor Adnan Siddiqui, directed by Mohammed Ehteshamuddin, and starring Imran Ashraf and Amar Khan.

For now, the film is in its post-production stage.