Infected blood is responsible for a colossal hepatitis epidemic in Jammu and Kashmir. This is according to an association representing many of the state’s doctors. According to Dr Nisar ul Hassan of the Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK), the problem is down to outmoded and inaccurate testing technology used by blood banks in J&K
All 31 blood banks in the state of Jammu and Kashmir operate without a valid licence, reports The Tribune. The Drugs & Cosmetics Rules, 1945 regulates blood banks and says they should renew their licences every six months. However, none of the blood banks in J&K have renewed their licences “for the last six or seven years”, says The Tribune.
The DAK warns that outdated practices in blood banks in J&K means that the donated blood is unfit for transfusion. This puts patients at risk of contracting life-threatening infections.
The controversies come to light at the same time as J&K Governor N. N. Vohra encouraged residents to come forward and donate blood regularly. He described World Blood Donor Day, on the 15th of June, as “a precious opportunity for reinvigorating the noble practice of blood donation.”
Donating blood is indeed a noble practice. However, it is a stigmatised one. This is largely due to the perceived link between blood donations and diseases such as malaria, hepatitis, and HIV. This stigma will not be lessened unless regulations around blood banks are tightened, to ensure they comply with safety guidelines.
“Quality standards are poorly implemented”
The issue of unsafe blood donations is not limited to Jammu and Kashmir. A study published last year described transfusion services in India as “fragmented, poorly regulated and the quality standards are poorly implemented.” It goes on to say “laboratory testing for transfusion transmitted infections is not quality assured.”
Such lapses in safety is fostering a challenge to public health. In December last year, it was revealed faulty blood transfusions have caused 14,474 cases of HIV in India over the past seven years.
The situation surrounding blood banks and unsafe transfusions in India urgently needs addressing. India currently suffers a shortage of around 1.2 million (12 lakh) units of blood nationwide. This is despite an eligible donor population of 512 million. Improving practices at blood banks may go a long way towards ensuring that patients do not fall victim to unsafe transfusions. It may also serve to reverse the stigma surrounding blood transfusions, so that blood supply in India meets the demand.