New Law Fuels Fears of Blood Shortages
Published: January 30, 2013 (Issue # 1744)
A new item may soon appear on the black market in Russia, and the deals are bound to be multiple. The product in question is human blood, which is rapidly becoming in short supply, owing to recent amendments to the blood donation law that effectively ban financial compensation for donors.
Passed by the State Duma in July 2012, the law came into force on Jan. 21, and according to St. Petersburg doctors, the results have already been devastating.
“Normally, between 70 and 80 people a day would come to our blood transfusion center; in the past week the numbers have dropped to about 15 people a day, and some of them even turned around and left once they heard about the new terms,” said Vladimir Krasnyakov, chief doctor at the St. Petersburg Blood Transfusion Center.
During the past 10 years, the number of blood donors in Russia has shrunk from 4 million to 1.8 million people, according to state statistics. In St. Petersburg there are around 15 blood donors per 1,000 people, which is a far cry from the actual number needed. According to Krasnyakov, at least 30 blood donors per 1,000 people are essential to avoid crisis situations, while a safe level is considered to be 50 donors per 1,000 people.
Russian clinics on average currently possess only 40 percent of the blood stocks and 10 percent of the plasma stocks that they need to operate.
“Patients will have to seriously rely on their relatives for blood donations if the problem is not addressed,” said Krasnyakov.
Previously, when blood supplies were scarce, patients were sometimes offered the resources of paid blood banks in state hospitals — for a price.
“In 2005, my husband and I had to sell our apartment in order to pay for blood transfusions for our child who was ill with cancer,” said Irina Sigacheva, a blood and marrow donation coordinator with the Advita charitable foundation that helps children with cancer.
“For two years, our son depended on donor blood, and our lives were turned into hell. Prices were already astronomic back then, and we had to pay 5,000 rubles per dose of blood.”
Both doctors and charitable organizations that help to collect blood donations are crying foul at the amendment, warning that cutting the payments will result not only in a drastic decline in the number of Russian donors and thus cause a dangerous shortage of blood and its components, but also that it will ultimately create a black market on which these vital substances will be available at soaring prices, while their quality won’t be controllable.
“When first-time donors come to us, after we check their blood, 15 to 30 percent of the blood is not usable: The donors often either do not know that they have, for instance, hepatitis, or are trying to conceal this information,” Krasnyakov said. “If this business goes underground, nobody is going to check blood as carefully as we do, putting it through masses of very expensive tests.”
Recruiting new donors will be problematic, as the current scheme is full of holes, said Stanislav Davydov, a member of the Donors’ Council of the local government.
“The law states that hospitals have to provide meals to donors after the process, but fail to stipulate the procedure for this. This creates absurd situations like this: A medical crew could collect blood from a lady in a tiny village and give her a voucher for a meal — and she would have to travel miles and miles to get that meal. In the provinces, donors have to pay hundreds of rubles for transport expenses to get to the hospital and back, and since payments for donations have been canceled, the donor would also have to invest this money, and not only their blood.”
Defending the amendments, a representative of the Russian Health Ministry that conceived the law, said that non-remunerated blood donation is a global trend. Veronika Skvortsova, the country’s Health Minister, has even gone as far as to claim that expecting payment for a blood donation is nothing less than “biological prostitution.”
The law stipulates, however, that blood donation can be financially compensated in the case of rare blood groups.
In recent years, there have been attempts to persuade young people to give blood. For example, the Red Cross has organized blood transfusion programs on Valentine’s Day that targeted couples. Local non-governmental organizations have been campaigning in universities and colleges in an effort to increase public awareness about the issue and recruit new donors.
These efforts were paying off before the new legisation.
“In the last couple of years, I would see young couples coming to blood transfusion centers; some would even bring their kids who would wait for them or even watch them,” Krasnyakov said. “Up to one third of our first-time donors were young people, which was most encouraging. It would be such a shame to waste all that work.”