What happens when something as integral to human life as blood is hoarded by the black market?
On June 6, 2017, Mohd Arif alias Shibbu was arrested for running a blood supply racket in Lucknow. Working as a zardozi artisan till 2010, he began donating blood at the city’s blood banks to earn some extra money. He soon became an agent himself, arranging for blood donors. Recently, there was another case where the district drug department seized 12 units of blood in Ghaziabad. This blood was collected at an unauthorised blood donation camp organised by two blood banks.
There are nearly 216 blood banks in Uttar Pradesh, of which 67 are owned by the government and the remaining are private. Lucknow has around 27 blood banks, of which five are owned by the government, one is army-based, and the remaining 21 are private. Every year, there are nine lakh units of blood collected in UP’s blood banks, which is only 70 percent of what is actually needed. The remaining 30 percent allegedly comes from illegal practices. However, UP is not the only errant state when it comes to the illegal sale of blood.
As investigated by the YourStory Hindi team, there are many professional donors on the lookout for distressed patients in hospitals who are in dire need of blood. These opportunists are often directly involved with the blood banks. Since most private banks do not conduct voluntary blood donation camps, the black market of blood begins at the doorstep of the blood bank.
A recent scam revealed how a private blood bank in Lucknow was conducting business. On July 7, 2015, Kohli Blood Bank and Components Private Limited, situated at Lucknow Chowk’s Kanchan Market, witnessed the arrest of several pathologists, who had intimidated and coerced minors to inject blood out of their systems. These men had been targeting minors from poor families for years to inject blood out of their systems at a mere Rs 200 or Rs 300. On the other hand, there were cases suggesting government hospitals were disposing of blood rather than providing it to the patients who needed it.
An RTI query revealed that Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital had disposed of 802 units of bloods due to expiry between August 2014 and January 2015. These are the months of shortage of blood throughout the city due to dengue outbreaks.
Dr AK Shrivastava, a surgeon at Lohia Hospital who was recently accused of causing the death of his patient Shivam Shukla, was also allegedly involved in the business. There were allegations against him of influencing Shivam’s parents to shift him to a private clinic and then botching up the operation. He used to conduct many of his surgeries in his private clinic, the blood for which was supplied by the hospital-based blood bank. Government investigations revealed that the blood needed for Shivam’s operation was also supplied from the blood banks at a hefty cost. The same blood bank, which disposed of 802 units of blood due to expiry, also collected 1,559 units of blood through blood donation camps.
There is a whole black market built around blood banking, which makes it very difficult to catch the perpetrators. Without conducting any prerequisite checks, children, alcoholics, elderly people, and beggars are coerced into donating blood for a maximum of Rs 500. They often end up donating blood several times a day.
If we were to believe one of the dealers involved in this business, there are over a dozen private blood banks in Lucknow that indulge in this. If there is a shortage of a negative blood group, anything between Rs 5,000 and Rs 25,000 can be made by supplying it. With the hidden motive of a commission, hospitals specifically mention the name of the bank they are supposed to get the blood from.
Everyone from the people manning roadside shops around the hospitals to the hospitals' ward boys is aware of the means to arrange blood for patients. They not only receive the patients' blessings for their guidance and support, but also get a hefty income for the same. The cost of the blood is determined on the basis of the demand. Although, India illegalised the selling of blood as well as paying blood donors in 2005, the business continues to flourish.
A new illegal business practice of blood was recently revealed with a gang being arrested in Lucknow. This gang, a group of professional blood donors, was involved in the adulteration of blood. They took one unit of blood and mixed it with basic saline or glucose to turn it into three units of adulterated blood. Saline, administered when patients are suffering from dehydration, is composed of distilled water and sodium chloride. The gang had been pocketing between Rs 500 and Rs 1,500 per unit by selling the adulterated blood in the market.
One unit of blood is made up of 350 ml and the blood comprises four major components—plasma, platelets, red blood cells (RBCs), and white blood cells (WBCs). Plasma helps with the clotting of blood, platelets regulate blood flow, RBCs regulate hemoglobin, and WBCs take care of the body’s immune system. Before donating blood to any patient, there are seven mandatory checks-blood pressure, hemoglobin, hepatitis B and C, Malaria, syphilis, HIV and blood group—that need to be conducted.
It is not very easy to identify the adulteration if two units of saline are added to one unit of blood. Only a specialist can identify this anomaly, something dealers have exploited to the fullest. It is alleged that numerous doctors and nurses are involved in the scam as the dealers cannot get access to the blood bags they used to spread the network. The case regarding their involvement is currently under judicial investigation.
Disclaimer: This article was originally written by Pranay Vikram Singh for YourStory Hindi. Translation and additional research by Shalmali Prakash.