NEW DELHI: The Thalassemia Patients Advocacy Group (TPAG), in a letter to the union health minister on Monday, has urged him to issue an advisory to all the states to ensure safe blood and to consider using Nucleic Acid Testing technology (NAT) in all government hospitals to bring down the risk of infection.
As NAT is available in states like Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir, the advocacy group said it should be made available in all state government hospitals. There should not be any disparity in providing safe and quality blood, it said.
Addressed to Union Health Minister Dr. Mansukh Mandaviya, TPAG member secretary Anubha Taneja-Mukherjee in the letter said, safe blood for India's Thalassemics and other recipients is an urgent requirement.
Advocating ‘one India one blood,’ she said, “I write to you about the urgent need for safe blood through NAT testing for patients of thalassemia across India and other blood recipients.”
India has the largest number of thalassemic patients estimated to be around 1 to 1.5 lakh people. “NAT screening ensures 99.99 percent blood safety,” the letter dated March 30 said. Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder that causes the body to have less hemoglobin, which enables red blood cells to carry oxygen.
Studies have shown that NAT technology for viral nucleic acid can detect the virus much earlier compared to serology tests and thereby reduce the transmission risk, it said.
Speaking with this newspaper, Taneja-Mukherjee, a thalassemia patient herself, said, “India needs NAT testing because this is the established gold standard followed across the world and by the US and European Union.”
Countries introducing the test have encountered a decrease in transmitted transfusion infection due to these viral transmissions.
India has an estimated 2.4 million HIV people, 3-5 percent Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) and 1-2 percent Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) cases. The government screens the blood for infectious markers using ELISA or rapid kits.
She said many thalassemia patients, who suffered a lot during the Covid pandemic, especially during the lockdown, in want of hospital beds and blood transfusions, which they need every month to maintain hemoglobin levels, are either infected with infections like HCV and HIV or are in the danger of exposure if they are not provided safe blood.
“The government should consider the safest option available for a need as basic as blood,” she said, adding that states like Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir have already initiated NAT testing.
Providing thalassemia patients with safe blood is also in line with the progressive legislation of Rights of Persons with Disability, 2016, she added.