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Blood transfusions save hundreds of lives every day. Numerous blood drives are conducted throughout the nation where people queue up to donate their blood for free, which is sold at exorbitant prices – one unit of blood in the city of Mumbai costs Rs. 850. This is the price set by the government and there are no exceptions for the financially weak.
Exploitation of the poor
The blood, which well-meaning people voluntarily donate for free, is taken by various private and public blood banks and hospitals which they sell for high prices, even to those who cannot afford it. There are people who use the last of their savings, mortgage their houses or sell their most personal belongings to ensure treatment of their loved ones. At a time when poverty is so rampant in our country, hospitals should exempt those below the poverty line – public hospitals at least.
This is nothing but the most blatant exploitation. Blood transfusions, as said above, save lives but in most cases, blood is very urgently needed. If a person cannot shell out that kind out of cash at such a moment of urgency, they may lose their loved one forever. As of yet, no system exists to help people in need. Commercial interest is one thing, but hospitals should take up the responsibility to come up with a win-win solution – it’s their job.
Gives rise to the illegal sale of donors
Cases have been reported of illegal sale of donors. In 1996, the Supreme Court made paid blood donation illegal – yet there are enough reports that suggest that the SC ruling didn’t make much of a difference. When people can get donors for cheaper than the market price for a bag of blood, they will naturally take the cheaper option – it doesn’t matter if it is illegal.
What they don’t realize is the immense risk involved. Since the blood gained isn’t through an institution, there is no proper regulation or screening of the blood. There is no way to ensure the safety or the quality of the blood – the blood may be contaminated and the person will never know. No one can be held accountable since this is not a part of the official system. All this reflects extremely poorly on a nation.
Unfair to the donors
This is also unfair to the donors who selflessly volunteer through blood drives to donate their blood. They hope to help the people around them, thinking that through their actions they can someone’s life. It isn’t exactly clear to them that their blood would eventually be sold, that their efforts may not lead to what they were hoping for.
The bare minimum that can be done
Private hospitals selling blood, while in no way excusable, is understandable. Corporates have always looked at their interests first in whatever sector they work. Plus, they cater to the section of society which can afford to pay for healthcare. However, a majority of our nation comprises of people living below the poverty line. These people have no one to turn to for help when they need it.
The government, which charges tax on everything that they can claim to use it for the country’s benefit, are also proving to be useless in this case. There is no net for the poor to fall back on. The government, with abject apathy, continue to change prices – at one point, one bag of blood was available for Rs. 1050 in Mumbai.
Hospitals argue that the blood needs to be processed and there are labor costs as well. There is no denying that there are costs, but hospitals should refrain from making a profit through this. In 2013, Gujarat High Court had ruled that hospitals should not sell blood for profiteering. The Bench consisting of the then Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B Pardiwala said that donors donate blood with noble intentions and hospitals should also keep that objective in mind. But a little questioning with your local pathologist will tell you that the costs involved are drastically low than the price charged.
What possible solutions are there?
The most obvious solution would be to ensure that hospitals do not sell blood for profit. As far as the cost of processing and storing the blood is concerned, public hospitals should waive it off for those below the poverty line. Private hospitals could introduce a deferred payment method – this would suit both parties.
Another solution is to have an independent mediator between donors and hospitals. General Blood is one such organization working for better prices of blood. According to its Linkedin page,” General Blood brought price transparency and competition into the human blood market’’. Based in Minnesota, General Blood acts as a middleman between blood donation centers and medical centers and research laboratories. No such organization exists in India as of now, but such an institution would definitely help matters.
Blood transfusions are extremely important and any form of delays can prove to be very risky. Money shouldn’t be an issue when there’s a life at risk. Sadly, a lot of people find themselves stuck in that very situation – and there’s no one to help them. It is indeed surprising that such an acutely important issue gets such minimal attention. Simply donating blood isn’t enough – it is on us to push for reforms.
– Sakshi Shivpuri
St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai
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