Ever since the outbreak of corona virus, which is characterized as pandemic by WHO, Pakistan along with the whole world is striving hard to survive. Amidst the increasing number of issues such as prolonged lockdowns, job layoffs, increasing crisis of food, grocery and sanitary items, greatest economic shocks, loss of an increasing number of lives and many more. Many influential people have been trying to spread awareness through different platforms. However, one of the most important issue which needs an equal amount of awareness and it is very crucial in terms of reaching out to the masses, is that the patients of thalassemia have been suffering to a greater extent due to shortage of blood in blood banks.
Thalassemia is a blood disorder inherited through genetics, either one of the parents is thalassemia major or both the parents might be minors, in which the body makes an inadequate amount of haemoglobin. This disorder results in large numbers of red blood cells being destroyed, which leads to anemia. Thus, regular blood transfusions to the patients of thalassemia major is a basic necessity of their life and the shortage of blood is more of a crisis for them rather than the pandemic.
Approximately 100,000 people are suffering from Thalassemia in Pakistan, 25000 in Sindh whereas 18000 people in Baluchistan. Every year around 5000 babies are born with this disease.
Iqbal Kasmani, CEO of Saylani Blood Bank and Thalassemia Centre, told the sources of Arab News,“we are forced to turn back many children due to lack of blood. Our requirement is 25 blood bags per day, but this has drastically dropped to 7 or 8 since the lockdown”. When the world is battling a pandemic, corona virus, thalassemia patients are fighting their own battle with life.
Shahid Manzar, a laboratory and blood camp technician at Kashif Iqbal thalassemia care centrE, stated: “there was already a moderate ratio of blood donation in Pakistan which was fairly not enough as for the increasing number of thalassemia patients in the country, however, since the day Pakistan detected its first case of novel coronaVirus, a sharp decrease in the ratio of blood donation has been observed”.
Individual suffering through this disorder needs regular blood transfusions every week, but those with severe conditions might need blood on a daily basis depending on the level of haemoglobin in one’s red blood cells. There are many children who would be concerned more about not getting blood transfusions on time rather than the virus which the world is fearing currently. He further stated, “Due to the fear and panic caused by the pandemic, people are now hesitating to visit the hospitals or blood donation centres as they are afraid of getting infected by the virus”.
Considering the current situation, when Shahid was asked about the procedure of blood donation, he explained, “When a donor volunteers to donate blood, firstly we note down their history, which includes if they had any close contact with a person suspected of carrying the virus, if they’ve had symptoms of any sort of illness in the past month, or if they have any prior illness such as diabetes or hypertension. Then we monitor their fever and CBC is conducted, a complete blood count test to evaluate their overall health and if their TLC (total leucocyte count) is high, then they are not allowed to donate blood.”
He further stated, “at such a difficult time when coronavirus is at its peak, We are thankful to the people belonging to Dawat-e-Islami, a global non-political and a non-profit Islamic organization, as they have provided help to a greater extent by not only setting up the camps for blood donation but also donated an adequate amount of blood, by going through a proper procedure of multiple check-ups to ensure the safety of the patients”.
Some many influential people and organizations are donating, for example in terms of money to the government’s relief fund, in terms of distributing free ration amongst the needy people, some are donating standardized medical kits such as masks, gowns, medicines and the list goes on. All this is carried out to help people and all the front-line workers to survive and to save their lives. However, these vulnerable lives also need immediate aid, we can provide them with something which can save their lives at a time when people have started to realize the value of life. Survival Of The Drying Veins is seeming difficult in these hard times.
Other than the prevailing fear, another aspect leading to the blood banks in Pakistan drying up is the current lockdown in the country due to which non-governmental organizations are not able to organize camps and even the people find it difficult to reach out to the blood bank centres. Different organizations and NGOs used to set up blood donation camps in colleges, universities and offices, but since the institutions have been closed for more than a month, the situation has worsened.
Non-governmental organizations such as Omair Sana Foundation and Kashif Iqbal thalassemia care centre are providing door-to-door services to cope with this situation as they are sending their teams on donor’s call, at their doorsteps. Kashif Iqbal centre is even giving opportunities to people to sponsor children suffering from Thalassemia. Survival Of The Drying Veins is a crucial topic.
Rajeshwari, a thalassemia major patient, was interviewed about how blood banks and thalassemia care centres where blood donation and transfusions are carried out, are trying to cope up with this situation along with taking precautionary measures. She stated, “Even when the situation is so tough and coronavirus is at its peak, blood banks are still in action and providing services to thalassemia patients in need because if they would shut down its operations, then people might die because of under-transfusion rather than the virus”.
She further stated, “However, that doesn’t mean that they are not taking any precautionary measures, for instance when I went there yesterday for blood transfusion, the Kashif Iqbal centrE was closed and it will remain closed for the next three days as they sanitize the place in every 15 days”.
Upon asking that how will people cope up with their need of blood in these three days, she shared, “Those with an adequate amount of haemoglobin can survive these three days easily but those who are in dire need of blood, like me, as it has been 15 days since I got my last blood transfusion, may contact and call them at home. Kashif Iqbal Thalassemia care centre sent a lab nurse today at my house along with blood bags to transfuse blood.”
“They are providing such door-to-door services not only to the patients but to the donors as well because either they are reluctant to visit or they can’t travel due to lockdown”.
This issue needs global attention and awareness as it is not only prevailing in Pakistan but all over the world. It should be discussed with international, national and local blood authorities and NGOs and important information should be available on all types of platforms. For example, WHO has provided its member countries with the resolutions and recommendations on how to deal with the situation of blood shortage during the outbreaks of such diseases.
Pakistan should consider the advice given by Thalassemia International Federation to its member countries to work closely with their National health authorities to empower the donors by ensuring them a safer environment. Also, such authorities should try and provide mobile unit services to facilitate the blood donors and if these services are already existing then it is really important to educate the people about it. It is important to update the patients and the donors about the processes and the precautionary measures taken.
It is also very important to take updates from them, maybe asking them to fill questionnaires regarding the history of their health, or asking the donors to inform the blood banks immediately if they have been experiencing any symptoms of corona virus since the day of donation. This is important for the safety of thalassemia patients.
Blood banks or the organizations can work on more possibilities such as providing isolated space to the donors in order to completely assure them. Blood centres or the organizations should avoid paid blood donations as WHO and TIF have always strongly advocated for voluntary and non-remunerated blood donations. (pandemic and haemoglobin)
Voluntary blood donations can be achieved by spreading awareness and by reaching out to the masses through famous platforms and influential personalities can appeal to the people as well. They can give their word of mouth and educate people by bursting such myths that people who donates blood can become vulnerable to the virus. They can also spread the information about the precautionary measures taken at these centers and the door-to-door, mobile facilities given to the volunteers. Blood banks or organizations can work on more possibilities such as providing isolated space to the donors in order to completely assure them. Survival Of The Drying Veins has gotten necassary.
A renowned journalist and TV presenter, Iqrar Ul Hasan, along with Waseem Badami, a famous TV anchor, hosted a segment in their Ramadan transmission, Shan-e-Iftar, in which they invited the founder and chairman of Kashif Iqbal Thalassemia Care Center, Muhmmad Iqbal. They dedicated this segment to creating awareness about the difficulties which are being faced by the thalassemia patients and their families. This is because even before the outbreak of Covid 19, the blood donation ratio used to decrease in the month of Ramadan due to extensive period of fasting. However, after the outbreak of this pandemic, situation has worsened.
They have used this platform to reach out to the masses to aware them about the problems, encourage them to donate blood, and assuring them that even they have donated blood during this time when corona virus is at its peak. Thus, under precautionary measures, donating blood does not make you vulnerable or prone to the virus. Similarly, other influential people or organizations should use their influence and fame for saving the lives of thalassemia patients by spreading their word.
People suffering from thalassemia treat it as a lifestyle rather than a disease. They try to live a “normal” life, in fact they’ve normalized their sufferings. However those with financial problems used to face difficulties in coping with this lifestyle as the medicines, frequent blood transfusions and other treatments would cost them their living.
The outbreak of Corona virus has made things worse for them. It has become the cause of immense disturbance and trouble in their lives. The drying blood banks of Pakistan is a threat to their survival. They’ve been trying to be strong all their life but this virus has made them the vulnerable ones again. Now it is time for us to unite and give them hope to make them stronger than before
// Survival Of The Drying Veins
By Maira Saud