Blood Bank Raises Red Flag

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There is a shortage of blood bags and reagents at the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS), NBTS Director Dr Lakshman Edirisinghe revealed. Owing to the forex crisis and several other reasons, it has been hard to manage blood bags since most are imported, he acknowledged referring to the shortage.

There are four types of blood bags; single, double, triple, quadruple. In comparison to other sizes there is a huge shortage of triple blood bags. “However, the bag shortage can be managed to some extent since there are bags in other sizes. Nevertheless, it won’t be enough in the long run,” he claimed.

Apart from the blood bags, there is a shortage of reagents. “Blood transfusion is a complicated process and all equipment related to it, except blood, is imported,” Dr Edirisinghe reiterated. So as every item being imported from Europe, the NBTS has activated a ‘Red’ phase for future references.

“It is possible to perform blood transfusion for a few days using the limited reagents available at the moment, but if the issue persists within the next two to three months, patients’ lives will be in jeopardy. The country requires between 1,200 and 1,400 blood packs a day and doctors have been told to work keeping the issue of limited equipment available in mind,” he said referring to the reagent shortage.

He said that 95 per cent of the supplies are coming from an European company.

“Even when there was a pandemic we were still able to import the required items safely without spreading any unwanted cautiousness. It takes about eight weeks to import the blood bags, and we have been promised that we would get them by the end of May.”

Dr Edirisinghe also said they only import stocks for only a six-month time period because is temperature issues and expiry dates that need to be considered. Even though the triple blood bag is very much low in stock at the moment it has not yet been labelled as the ‘Zero Level’. He said that to fill the shortage they use quadruple bags as an alternative, but it is expensive compared to others and the particular size would be in shortage in a couple of weeks to come. Conversely, quadruple size is also promised to be imported by the end of May.

Depleting blood stocks

Nevertheless, due to the forex crisis there have been some major changes in the medical industry which resulted in limitations to certain areas. Given some routine surgeries, medical tests have been limited due to the shortage of reagents. Therefore, blood stocks have been managed to a certain extent since there are limited number of surgeries.

Therefore, according to calculations, stocks have decreased to 1,100-1,200 per day. Nonetheless, only 1,000 donors are present per day. This does not affect the blood transfusion process because normally more people tend to donate blood in May and June following Vesak and Poson days.

The NBTS Director also stated that emergency surgeries, pregnancies, young children and cancer patients have been prioritised.

He added that they have asked the Health Ministry to procure a stock of triple blood bags for three months. He said that they are hopeful the delivery would be made by the end of May. 

Reagent shortage

Addressing the reagent shortage, he mentioned that ‘coomb and VDRL’ reagents are comparatively deprived but the bank will be receiving the following reagents continuously by the end of May. 

When asked about the Ministry of Health’s response to the equipment shortage, Dr Edirisinghe claimed the NBTS will be prioritised when the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank grant funds.

“Sri Lanka maintains one of the highest quality blood transfusion services in the world, and the blood bank could be in a bad situation if the equipment to continue the service without interruption is not available,” he said.

It must be noted that the NBTS is in the ‘Red’ phase temporarily due to the crisis.  He said they activated the ‘Red’ phase in case there is a difficulty to maintain the planned strategies. It has come to the point where the NBTS request the public to donate equipment required to save many lives in the hour of need. According to Dr Edirisinghe, all of blood bank’s shortages hopefully would be resolved after they receive the ordered items in the next couple of months.

By Aloka Kasturiarachchi