Ensuring blood safety

With transfusion transmitted infections touching dangerous levels, blood safety has become one of the major health concerns today. The appalling fact is that it is the patients who fall prey to these diseases. The patients are more vulnerable to HIV, hepatitis B and C, which get easily transmitted through blood.

S Senthalir for Deccan Herald

A National AIDS Control Organisation’s report (for 1998-99) indicated that approximately 7 per cent of individuals who are HIV positive got the infection from blood transfusion.

Transfusion associated hepatitis B and C combined, is in the rate of 7 per cent for patients receiving between 1-8 units of blood. Those getting repeated transfusions, such as patients of thalassemia or patients on renal dialysis are distinctly worse off and show evidence of infection with HBV in 50 per cent and HCV in 30 per cent of the patients.

“In spite of the methods adopted to provide safe blood, the risk of being prone to diseases is also increasing.

Hence, we see many countries adding Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT) as part of their routine blood screening protocol to prevent transfusion transmitted infections,” says Sumit Bagaria, president Hemogenomics, marketing, selling and research company.

NAT is a method of testing that is more sensitive than conventional tests that require the presence of antibodies to trigger a positive test result. It works by detecting the low levels of viral genetic material present when an infection occurs but before the body begins producing antibodies in response to a virus.

NAT significantly reduces the ‘window period’ of the time between the donor exposure to the virus and the appearance of antibodies. By decreasing the window period, it allows for earlier detection of the infection and thus further decreases the possibility of transmission via transfusion.

Blood Transfusion Services (BTS) in India are mainly hospital based and is governed by The Drugs & Cosmetic Act.

There are about 2,060 licensed blood banks under different administrative controls i.e. government 41 per cent, voluntary 12 per cent, private hospital 22 per cent and private commercial 25 per cent. There is a wide gap in the demand and supply of blood as the annual collection is about 6 million against the demand of approximately 9 million.

“The challenge for blood safety is not just the lack of standardised screening in the approximately 2,060 licensed blood collection centres, operated both privately and by the government. Majority of voluntary donors are first time donors, as there is little concept of regular repeat voluntary blood donation. This increases the chances of transfusion-related diseases,” adds Sumit.

“Now many hospitals are adopting this method for blood screening and patients are given a chance to choose the kind of test they want. Though expensive than ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immuno Sorbent Assay), there is a huge demand for this,” says Sumit.

In Bangalore, hemogenomics is tied up with Rotary Blood Bank blood and provides help in blood testing through NAT.

But, this alone doesn’t help in eliminating the transmission transferred infections. There is a greater responsibility on the government to organise awareness campaigns to help people understand the importance of blood safety.

Rational use of blood and voluntary donation should be encouraged to ensure safe blood to people, he adds.

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