Tracking every drop of donated blood 

Kiran Verma’s virtual blood donation app has crossed 50,000 registered users
Kiran Verma promotes the need for blood donation by visiting schools, giving talks, donating blood, and even did an eight-month tour across India mostly on foot making citizens aware of the cause
Kiran Verma promotes the need for blood donation by visiting schools, giving talks, donating blood, and even did an eight-month tour across India mostly on foot making citizens aware of the cause

"Every day 12,000 people in India die due to the sheer lack of donated blood. India collects 11 million units of blood but needs 15 million units, so there’s a deficit of 4 million units. Over 40 districts in India don’t have a single blood bank. So we want to motivate 1 million people – not through marketing but word-of-mouth – to donate at least once or twice a year to bridge this gap, and penetrate through remotest parts of India," says Kiran Verma, the East Delhi-based Founder of Change One Foundation that started 'Simply Blood' – India’s first virtual blood donation app. The 35-year-old explains on his Linkedin bio that he’s “…on a mission to end any kind of death due to lack of blood in India by 2025 and provide last-mile support using Simply Blood….”

Verma’s app notifies its registered individuals – over 50,000 worldwide – when a ‘blood request’ is raised by within a 5km radius. If a willing donor accepts the request, the app exchanges details of both parties (phone numbers, home and hospital addresses). The transparency in donor-recipient profiles is Verma’s attempt at keeping India’s thriving and well-hidden blood black marketing network at bay, despite India illegalising the buying and selling of blood since 2005. Verma studies the app data to identify, blacklist and block ‘professional blood donors’ – individuals who sell their blood/raise fake requests or sell the donor’s blood. These fishy profiles raise and accept blood requests very so often – something that is considered to be the main loophole in Facebook’s blood donation feature because it doesn’t conduct any donor verification. An exception is the blood requests raised for Thalassaemic patients that Verma permits after internal verification.

Simply Blood is also integrated with that has listed government-approved legal blood banks. As and when the government deletes the license of a blood bank, it automatically gets updated on Verma’s app. A list of incidents fuelled Verma to start donating his own blood at 18, and then start Simple Blood. One of his professors who took ill, needed blood, and Verma, thinking that his deed would earn him extra marks donated. But on seeing how emotional and grateful the professor’s son was, Verma felt good on being of some help. Since then, he’s donated blood 42 times – four times a year on birthdays on people he’s close to. 

Then came December 26, 2016, when he received a call that a man admitted at a government hospital was in urgent need of blood. Verma rushed to the hospital and did his bit, but on his way out, just out of curiosity, he visited the family where the man’s wife told him she had paid Rs 1,500 for his blood. Shocked, he confronted the hospital authorities who were clueless. The character who made the call had switched off his phone. Verma discovered that to make ends meet, the wife of this hospitalised man had gone into prostitution. “Rs 1,500 would’ve have been that family’s one-month ration…I remember crying to my wife over the phone on the Expressway to Noida over this. She told me to either stop crying or put an end to the problem.” Verma chose the latter, quit his job as a marketing manager and launched 'Simply Blood', 26 days later, with a bunch of young techies who came on board as co-founders. 

Then in August, Mayank a 11-year-old from Rampur, Bihar, who Verma had donated blood to two months prior, succumbed to cancer because the family and hospital were unable to arrange for blood. “I haven’t seen a child from a Tier-II city having so many aspirations. I had heard he died bleeding from everywhere… such an undignified way to go.” That rattled him enough to undertake an eight-month journey across India, mostly on foot. “It wasn’t about Simply Blood, but just to spread the word on the importance of donating blood.” 

Offline, through Change with One Foundation, Verma has conducted free 76 blood donation drives, partnering only with the Indian Red Cross and Armed Forces Transfusion Centre to collect blood. 

Obstacles in his path

Despite these measures, Verma admits it’s beyond the app’s control to look into certain dimensions. Like identifying HIV+/Hepatitis C donors. Or if hospitals/blood banks run the right tests on the collected blood for blood pressure, haemoglobin, Hepatitis B and C, Malaria, syphilis, HIV, apart from blood group. Or fraudulent activities taking place by entities such as adding saline to turn one unit of blood into two... His motto is to just motivate people to stop becoming ‘replacement donors’ – donating blood to only friends and family, but to donate willingly and directly to blood banks, hospitals and blood drives.

Verma has met many dissuaders along the way. His own family believed that donating blood made one impotent. Their mindsets radically changed after he donated blood to an ailing uncle, who was given one week to live but pulled through a month, partially due to Verma’s contribution.  And when he became a father shortly after, his family sheepishly recognised his efforts. 

In his line of work, he’s met families who under some superstition/preconceived notion won’t donate blood to their own, but want an outsider to do the deed. In another episode, a Brahmin man only wanted to receive blood from a ‘Shuddh Brahmin’. 

Then Delhi, being the capital city, has the top private and government hospitals which are overflowing as these get patients from the neighbouring states – Haryana, UP and Bihar. And there’s always a shortage of blood, mainly because the patient’s friends and most of the family is back home and can’t travel all the way to donate blood. So he’s used to irate relatives who call and order/scream/verbally abuse that they need blood in the next 30 minutes. “I can’t tell them to behave then because they are not in the right frame of mind… desperate to save their patient.”  

Currently, he’s a stay-at-home dad and since July 1 has been running Simply Blood by himself, ending a two-and-a-half-year stint with his co-partners. The house runs on his wife earnings as a quality assurance executive in the food industry. But now to take the load off his wife and sustain his Simply

Blood app, Verma is working on a profit-making enterprise of buying produce directly from farmers and selling it in Delhi, another endeavour of his that eliminates the middleman. 

In fact, Verma is so committed to the cause, he only wears a jet T-shirt with the logo ‘Simply Blood’ – he owns five – to even weddings, meetings or at home, pairing with trousers, denim jeans or shorts. “Just like the rudalis [professional mourners from Rajasthan], who don’t wear any other colour. I’ll stop when I fulfill my goal.”

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The New Indian Express