Explained: Blood Donation during the COVID19 pandemic

 By Dr Lalit Dhantole, Consultant Transfusion Medicine, Fortis Hospitals Mulund

Why blood donation is key to saving lives of millions of Indians? Suryakant, a construction worker in Mumbai had the biggest nightmare during the lockdown. His 12-year-old daughter is a Thalassemia patient, a blood disorder that causes the body to produce less than normal levels of haemoglobin. She needed blood transfusion every 2-3 weeks, and that was an exercise that Suryakant & his wife had for years together. But during the lockdown, things got rough; with no work, no financial aid and most public healthcare centres turned into COVID units, getting a blood transfusion done for free was not possible. He had to seek help at a centre where he spent all his savings. He had lost all hope and was about to return to his hometown when an angel extended support. Such was the story of people like Suryakant who faced shortage of blood during the lockdown.

 LACK OF SAFE BLOOD IN INDIA: Access to safe blood has been a persistent problem in India. The rate of blood donation in the country amounts to only 1% of the population, and the pandemic only compounded the issue. Due to strict social distancing norms, cancellation of various blood drives, and low donor turnout due to COVID, India faced a huge shortage of blood. In April 2020, the Indian Red Cross Society raised an alarm that voluntary donation had fallen by almost 100%.  While the rate of blood donation declined drastically, the requirement for blood remained constant. Shortage of blood in the past few month is said to be detrimental to those who are in urgent need of blood and blood components, like those with Thalassemia & severe Anaemia, instances of severe blood loss, road traffic accidents, antepartum and postpartum haemorrhage, and patients needing urgent surgeries.

 As this became a major cause of concern, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) issued guidelines for safe donation of blood during the ongoing pandemic. It states that blood donation can still be done after following guidelines for the safety of both donors, and the drive organisers. Similarly, The National Blood Transfusion Council’s (NBTC) also issued guidelines that emphasized on the continuity of supply of safe blood and recommended reinstating both outdoor and in-house donations, in compliance with social distancing standards, biomedical-waste disposal rules and infection control guidelines. Guidelines state that people are at no risk of developing COVID-19 through the blood transfusion or via a blood donation procedure.

 Moreover, in the last few months, the MoHFW and the state government of Maharashtra have been working on new protocols, encouraging people to donate blood. Having said that, this problem will only resolve if people overcome fear and come forward to donate blood.

 GREATEST ACT OF GIVING: Blood donation is the greatest act of kindness and at a time where the world is facing one of the biggest health crisis, it is fundamental to donate blood and ensure safer donation drives. However, most people are sceptical about blood donation and have many questions in their mind. Here are some answers to your queries that can help you save lives.

 WHO CAN, AND CANNOT, DONATE BLOOD? As per the National Blood Transfusion Council (NBTC), blood can be donated 28 days post COVID recover or discharge from a treating facility or 28 days after home isolation ends. Moreover, very mild, mild, pre-symptomatic, moderate, and severe COVID-19 cases must be deferred for 28 days from donating blood after discharge from a treating facility or 28 days after the end of home isolation.


  • Social distancing measures should be followed at all blood donation sites. These measures include physical distance, restriction on social norms of handshaking and hugging, reducing overcrowding, managing blood donation couches such that one-metre distance is maintained between two blood collection areas, calling donors in a staggered manner.
  • For collection of convalescent plasma, the guidelines stated that systems should be in place to enable re-entry of cured COVID-19 patients as donors for convalescent plasma for treatment of those affected by the novel coronavirus.
  • Blood donation centres and camp organizers should educate staff and donors on these measures and provide facilities like running water, soap, hand sanitizers, personal protective equipment, color-coded dustbins.
  • Hand hygiene and coughing etiquette must be maintained strictly by all.
  • Also, safe disposal of used gloves, masks, caps, and soiled material should be ensured. Protocols for proper cleanliness of the equipment used during the blood donation should be maintained.
  • Follow procedures for cleaning and disinfecting and increasing frequency of these activities.

WHAT ARE THE PRECAUTIONS THAT DONORS NEED TO TAKE? For donors it is quite simple, maintain good respiratory hygiene. COVID testing is not mandatory before blood donation, as transfusion associated COVID is very rare. However, if a person is experiencing fever or sorethroat  in the past 1/2 weeks, he/she needs to report it before considering blood donation. All donors need to take universal precautions like social distancing measures, wearing mask and proper hand sanitisation during donation.

Before donating blood, make sure you:

  • Drink enough water
  • Get enough rest
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol
  • Avoid heavy physical activity
  • Eat enough food rich in Iron and Protein

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