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Sustaining the blood bank services during the COVID pandemic

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Dr Ainy Choonia, Head of Department- Blood Bank Services, Saifee Hospital shares the impact of COVID-19 on blood donation / collection and protocols that need to be followed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during collecting as well as donating blood

The country and the world are in the midst of a major pandemic with no known end date in this fight against the invisible enemy. However what continues uninterrupted is the demand for blood products especially in patients requiring regular blood transfusions, as in thalassemia. Blood bank services have managed to cope up with the situation helped by the reduced demand for blood products during the lockdown. However with each passing day in Unlock 1.0 this demand is rising, as more and more hospitals and nursing homes open up themselves for routine surgeries. On the other hand supply of blood through voluntary donations has decreased substantially in the pandemic as donors are scared of visiting the healthcare facilities due to perceived risk of getting infected. Impact of this has been huge and a fall of more than 80 per cent in voluntary blood collections has been registered in some blood bank facilities. Apart from the voluntary donations at blood banks, many centres used to depend heavily on blood donation camps organised by various NGO’s, housing complexes and religious and social organisations. To avoid overcrowding in alignment with the principle of the lockdown, organisers have been deferring such camps for almost three months now further impacting the supply of blood.

Though the risk of transmission of COVID-19 through blood is not proven yet, all blood banks have added a list of questions pertaining to Coronavirus in their donor screening questionnaire as per the guidelines of State Blood Transfusion Council (SBTC). Any donor who is known positive or suspected to have COVID, or is a close contact of COVID patient will be deferred so as to avoid the risk of blood product related transmission. Similarly any patient with an international travel history or travel history from areas with high incidence of cases should also be discouraged from donating blood.

Blood banks have also modified their operational guidelines to minimise the risk of COVID infection with the use of personal protective equipment, hand sanitisers and maintaining social distancing by way of scheduled blood donation appointments spaced out between the patients. To implement this, it is important for all the staff to understand the infectious threat of COVID-19 and be aware about the actions to be taken for ensuring the safety and reliability of blood supply and the safety of

fellow staff and donors. Appropriate training of the staff is the key here. Similarly donor and potential donor awareness is necessary through prior information regarding importance of self-deferral if they are feeling unwell. Also these safeguards against COVID-19 should be shared with the donors to instill a sense of security in them and to motivate them to come forward.

When it comes to organising camps, SBTC guidelines allow organising small camps with less than 100 donors in a slotted manner, in open, ventilated and hygienic environment with all standard precautions using PPE’s. Small and steady start in organising such camps will go a long way in meeting the blood demands of the city. Mumbaikars have also risen to the occasion in any calamity, and I am sure that they will join hands to keep the blood pipeline in the city uninterrupted.

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