What’s life-sustaining becomes life-threatening when it gets contaminated and is transfused into an unsuspecting patient. Safe blood transfusion continues to be a major challenge for the healthcare sector in India. Back in 1996, the Supreme Court had told the Union Government to ‘consider the advisability’ of enacting a separate legislation for regulating the collection, processing, storage, distribution and transportation of blood and the operation of blood banks in the country. Consequently, the National Blood Transfusion Council was established, followed by the framing of the National Blood Policy. However, blood transfusion services are still regulated by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, and its subsequent amendments. Now, the apex court has issued a notice to the Centre and the state governments on a public interest litigation seeking to regulate blood banks and the blood storage system.
The petitioners have red-flagged the mushrooming of stand-alone private blood banks which not only provide products of inconsistent quality but also fleece patients with impunity. The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the shocking case in Phagwara, where a blood bank issued HCV-positive blood (infected with hepatitis C virus) to an 85-year-old person. Several blood banks in Punjab’s Doaba region have been under scrutiny in recent years over quality control and pricing issues.
The petition has claimed that the number of registered and licensed blood banks in India is abysmally low — less than three per 10 lakh population. Ideally, every district hospital should have a blood bank. However, merely expanding the network of such storage centres is not enough to improve the state of affairs. It’s imperative that each blood bank should have adequate infrastructure and trained manpower. The authorities ought to address the shortage of trained healthcare professionals in the field of transfusion medicine. The feasibility of setting up a separate monitoring body for blood transfusion services under the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare should also be explored. Strict enforcement of the licensing norms can help to stem the rot. With precious lives at stake, unscrupulous elements cannot be allowed to bleed people dry.