The nation witnessed how local people, especially young ones, volunteered to donate blood and provide other support after the catastrophic Sitakunda container depot fire on 5 June. Emergency response by such volunteers has become a legacy in Bangladesh.
Blood donation campaigners often credit the non-profit Sandhani – an organisation created by some medical students in 1977 – for motivating the society towards this end. On the eve of World Blood Donor Day, The Business Standard spoke to paediatric surgeon and Sandhani President Professor Dr Mohammad Tosaddeque Hossain Siddiqui, to discuss how far the social movement that Sandhani initiated has come.
Apart from contributing to health, how does blood donation also help society as a whole?
Blood donation is distinct from other types of donation because blood cannot be purchased from the market like most other commodity products.
Blood is an offering that is circulating within my body and I don't need an excess of it. By donating blood, I am helping the receiver as well as myself.
As the average adult has around 5-6 litres of blood, a donor can regain strength by taking some rest and food after donating merely 350-400ml of blood. Within a short period, our body can replace all the cells and fluids that have been lost.
See, blood donation helps a person be relieved from excess blood. On the other hand, blood donation has a great and positive social aspect, which is invaluable.
Let me give some examples. A thalassemia patient requires 2-3 pints of blood every month. Initially, the relatives with the same blood group will donate blood, but the stock soon gets exhausted. At that time, the voluntary donors help the patients survive. Otherwise, only application of medicines cannot save a thalassemia patient.
Now come to the bigger picture. We have seen a great response by local people in times of massive disasters like Rana Plaza collapse and Nimtala inferno. If the people didn't volunteer, the casualties would have been more.
Sandhani always promotes blood donation as a social movement. The emergency response you saw after the Sitakunda disaster, where local people rose up to donate blood, was an outcome of that social movement.
Sometimes we see school children show willingness to donate blood. But we don't allow them as blood donation is only approved for adults aged between 18 and 57.
A World Health Organisation (WHO) report says Bangladesh receives only 31% of its blood from voluntary donors. This number is very low, compared to other countries in South Asia. What is your observation? And how can we increase the rate of voluntary donation?
Blood donation practice has not matured in Bangladesh. Most adults are still superstitious about blood and organ donation. To grow the size of volunteer groups, we need to further expand the coverage of blood donation campaigns.
It should be noted that more is collected in the form of party donation, which is when relatives donate blood. Party donation is not recorded as voluntary donation.
I believe the government can play a very crucial role by awarding blood or organ donors, like how the highest tax payers are awarded. Moreover, the Education Ministry can launch a programme to sensitise school children on any sort of volunteering. It can be on donating blood, or helping other people in an emergency situation. The government can introduce a National Volunteer Award.
Do you think that the country's health facilities are up to par with standard blood storage cold-chains?
Personally, I am against blood storage. I would like to see adult people as mobile blood banks. If a maximum number of people are motivated, patients from remote areas will find blood donors in neighbourhoods. I believe local people are enough to meet the local blood demand. Unfortunately, the present motivation level is not up to our expectations.
Delivery centres should generally keep newborn babies' blood group records. Do you think that the ongoing birth registration process can help create a blood group database by curating the records?
The database can help source necessary blood at any time. Foremost, it will help sort out people with rare blood groups. We know that unavailability of rare group blood, particularly the negative type, causes many deaths.
Here, an app with accumulated data of blood types will definitely be a helpful tool. The government can preserve blood type data of newborn babies in a central data bank and encourage people to enrich it by giving their blood type information voluntarily. The app then will open the data bank for all users.
Government service providers could initiate the data input. The private service holders would follow suit. Eligible people whose personal contact information and blood group data are preserved in the app would be notified whenever someone requires a particular blood type he/she carries.
If there is such an app, sourcing blood around close proximity will be easy - at a click of a button. The incumbent government prioritises digitalisation. So I think making an app is possible.
Today is the World Blood Donor Day. What do you say to regular blood donors?
Persons aged between 18 and 57 can donate blood a maximum four times (with four months of interval) in a year. He or she doesn't need to have rich nutrients. Normal food intake is okay.
However, a blood donor should be in good health, have normal blood pressure and sugar level. He or she must not be suffering from transmissible diseases like HIV, malaria, syphilis, hepatitis and Covid-19.
Most importantly, the person donating blood should abstain from narcotics.