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the blood issue

01 blood trade thriving in India

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Why is the bloo thriving in India

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od trade a? India’s annual demand for blood is about six million units but blood banks manage to collect only about three million units each year. Nearly a third of this comes from paid (professional) donors. The recent ban by Supreme Court in 1998, stopping payment for blood donors has failed to stop the trade in blood and has driven these businesses underground, far away from the eyes of law and healthcare authorities. “All it did was to drive the trade underground and raise the price of blood beyond the means of ordinary people,” says Dr Iqbal Malik, an activist. Most donations are from “replacement donors”— the relatives or friends of patients who replace blood needed in emergencies. People do not donate blood voluntarily unless their loved one is in need of it. The annual demand for blood in India is increasing by the day. Lawyers say it’s difficult to prove an illegal blood transaction because that requires an official complaint lodged by the person who pays the

donor – and families are so desperate they consider the black market blood donors lifesavers. “I don’t think it is a crime to help people who are in need,” one told an journalist, refusing to give his name for fear of prosecution. “I haven’t been able to find a job for years now and selling blood is a way for me and my family to survive.” As hospitals, blood banks are forever starved of blood; they are in no mood to cross check the source or mode. For them, blood is needed to save someone’s life, hence a lesser evil. Something is better than nothing policy makes them turn a blind eye to these agents who somehow seem to conjure up blood in the unlikeliest and dire situations.

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Illegal blood trade in India

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Illegal Blood Trade Thrives A few hundred rupees, drugs or promise of a good livelihood is all you need to lure a person to the hell hole of illegal blood trade. Here the unwilling victim is kept locked, drugged, chained and is then drained of the only commodity he has – blood. The unsuspecting victim’s blood is illegally extracted almost thrice a week, along with many more victims who are trapped in deplorable conditions with no escape or hope. These victims are rendered bloodless, delirious, comatose and are sometimes left to die. Neither the victim nor the blood is screened or adequately tested. These unsafe (and often contagious) pouches of blood are then sold to hospitals, nursing homes and blood banks for an amount that ranges from Rs.500 – Rs.1500 by the agents of this heinous trade.

Welcome to the world of illegal blood business in India The recent surge in media reports from various parts of the country such as Varnasi, Jammu, Patna, Jaipur, Gorakhpur, Amritsar, etc shows the widespread nature of this business where bloody agents, pathology centers, doctors, nursing homes, blood banks, hospital boys, drivers, technicians, etc., works as a nexus to procure blood by any means. The recent media expose of blood trade in Patna were 8 people were arrested for illegal trade of blood and selling to Nursing Homes to the sting operation of procuring illegal blood by Tehelka, highlights the ease with which agents are luring people, employing technicians to draw, collect, and store blood, and getting to sell them at profitable rate, shows the sophistication of this crude practice.

According to AIDS Action, this illegal trade of blood is not just a third world problem. This is a global, multi-million dollar industry with China, Russia, India, Bulgaria and Africa taking the lead in this illegal and unethical business of life. Like kidney transplantation, human bone and child trafficking rackets, blood trade too runs deep into the system. Without doubt, this trade cannot flourish and be widespread in the country without the involvement and support of local agents, mafia, police, politicians, and many more unknown entities.

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The Victims of Blood Trade The victims are slum-dwellers, daily-wage earners, migrating population, rickshaw pullers, push-cart thela vendors, shelter-less youth, street kids, or just someone in need of quick money. The unsuspecting victims are illiterate and poor and do not know what they are getting into. And any promise of money or livelihood is good for them to go. The agents are always on the look6out for potential victims, who ar-

rive to the big-city for earning their livelihood. They track the migrant labourers and job aspirants at the railway and bus stations; get them temporary jobs to make themselves seem genuine. After a month or two, they get them fired and lure them into selling their blood. Even when they are told to donate blood, they do not know that it is going to be a long affair with no escape. They do not know how deep the hell hole is. On the other hand there are com-

mercial blood donors (CBDs) who are well aware of the requirement for donating blood on a periodic basis and have been doing this for a long time. CBDs are mostly unskilled people who get into this trade and stick to it as a job. They operate through middlemen or agents in contact with the hospital, clinic or pathology laboratory. Each CBD is bled more than five times in a month, and some are donating a number of times a week.


“The victims told us they had voluntarily sold their blood in the beginning, but later they had been confined and their blood forcibly extracted. They also said that instead of the Rs 500 per day they had been promised, they were paid only Rs 150.�

According to Late Dr. Radium Dalwadi Bhattachary, they are also aware that their blood should meet certain specifications like haemoglobin content, failing which they may not be able to give blood or they will be paid less. Hence they keep consuming iron tablets to stay red. Separated from their families, they are likely to have more than one sexual partner and many of them are addicted to tobacco and alcohol. 7


What happens t victims of the bl sucking agents?

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to the lood ? Here is an excerpt from Scott Carney’s latest book, The Red Market, which talks about illegal trade of blood, kidneys, bones, and more. Scott Carney is an investigative journalist who has witnessed this illegal blood trade from close quarters. He describes the condition in which the victims of blood trade were found: “They sprung the lock and revealed a medical ward fit for a horror movie. IV drips hung from makeshift poles and patients moaned as if they were recovering from a delirium. Five emaciated men lying on small woven cots could barely lift their heads to acknowledge the visitors. The sticky air inside was far from sterile. The sun beating down on the tin roof above their heads magnified the heat like a tandoor oven. One man stared at the ceiling with glassy

eyes as his blood snaked through a tube and slowly drained into a plastic blood bag on the floor. He was too weak to protest. That evening police rushed the men to the local Civil Hospital to recover. The doctors there said that they had never seen anything like it. Hemoglobin supplies oxygen to various parts of the body, and low levels of it can lead to brain damage, organ failure, and death. A healthy adult has between 14 and 18 grams of hemoglobin for every 100 milliliters of blood. The men averaged only 4 grams. Leeched of their vital fluids to the brink of death, all of them were gray and wrinkled from dehydration. “You could pinch their skin and it would just stay there like molded clay,” said B. K. Suman, the on-call doctor who first received the patients from police custody.

Their hemoglobin levels were so low that the doctors were worried about bringing them up too quickly. One told me that they had become physically addicted to blood loss. To survive, the doctors had to give them iron supplements along with a regimen of bloodletting or they could die from too much oxygen in their circulatory systems.”

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The Blood Issue