Published: 03rd June 2020
Here's how this 20-year-old's NGO Khoon is saving lives by making sure blood reaches a patient at the right time
Ever found yourself in dire need of blood for a loved one? No? Then, thank your lucky stars. But if you have, then you will certainly understand the importance of NGOs like Khoon. We find out more
When 14-year-old Chethan M Gowda lost his school teacher because of the unavailability of blood at the crucial moment, he thought that it was high time he do something to stop the rampant loss of lives due to the untimely shortfall of blood. "Around the same time, I had a couple of friends looking for blood donors and they found it very difficult to find any - this was back in 2015. I wanted to do something to help. I started working with blood banks by organising blood donation camps and continued that for a year. But then I realised that just organising drives wasn't enough to solve the shortage problem in the country," says Chethan, now 20 years old and the founder of Khoon, an organisation in Bengaluru that collaborates with hospitals and blood banks across India to help patients in need.
Started in 2016, the Khoon team first started working on helplines where people could call them directly in Bengaluru and the team would either send a donor or arrange for the required unit of blood. "By February-March 2017, we had a good presence in Bengaluru. 2000-2500 donors registered with us and the helpline was limited to the city. In August 2017, we made our first expansion to Assam. I used to work with interns mostly to conduct awareness sessions, to increase donor registrations online. I had a couple of them from Assam who were very dedicated and wanted to do this there. Back then, we were the only 24x7 blood donation service dedicated to the entire Northeast," adds Chethan, who is a third-year Mechanical Engineering student. He adds that he wants to do his master's in social work and plans to completely concentrate on Khoon, post his education.
Chethan M Gowda
Speaking of how the lockdown has affected the services and made it difficult to get donors, he says, "This has been a huge problem to tackle but we have successfully dealt with it." As soon as the initial lockdown was imposed in March, they began working on a pan-India toll-free helpline. "We launched the helpline number on March 24. Patients across hospitals in India could reach out to us and request for blood or blood donors. We also promoted it to donors. The ones willing to come forward and donate blood irrespective of the lockdown could call us and register as a potential blood donor. To facilitate the donation, we provided ambulance pick-up and drop services in cities like Bengaluru, Delhi, Gurugram, Noida and Guwahati. If a donor has their own vehicle, we issued donor passes so that they could travel to the blood bank and back. Of course, we ensured that the blood banks were strictly maintaining social distancing norms, proper hygiene and sanitisation."
In the past two-odd months, the team has mobilised around 2,000 donors, mostly for thalassemia and blood cancer patients. The response has been fabulous despite the lockdown, says the 20-year-old. "We have organised 11 blood donation camps in Bengaluru and Assam, where we collected around 900 units of blood," he adds.
So, how does it work? There are two aspects when it comes to blood donations, explains Chethan. Patient scenario: The helpline number 1800-890-6465 is being handled by ten operators who are trained to counsel the donor and the patient. As soon as a patient calls the helpline, they collect basic details like their name, illness, which blood group, how many units of blood, by when, contact details and gender. "Once we get these details, we verify the request from that particular hospital. Following this, our operators start reaching out to donors who are already registered with us. As and when we confirm a donor, we share the details with the patient. If it's a blood unit requirement, we reach out to nearby blood banks, check for availability and then, arrange that particular unit. We also take care of the blood unit charges as prescribed by the state government, if a family can't afford it," adds Chethan.
Donor scenario: People willing to donate blood can call the helpline number. The team collects basic details like their name, blood group, contact details and where they live. If there's an immediate patient requirement, they share that with the donor and facilitate the donation process. "If it is for the blood bank, we take a stock report from them and we send donors directly to them," he informs.
"In India, 95 per cent of blood collection happens at donation camps. If they are postponed or cancelled, blood banks don't have sufficient stock to meet the requirement. More donors need to come forward and register themselves so that patients face fewer issues. Especially thalassemic patients, accident cases, surgery patients where transfusions can't be postpone - pandemic or not, these situations need immediate attention. If people don't come forward, it can risk a lot of lives. It's completely safe, COVID-19 does not spread through blood donation. We are making sure safety measures are followed in blood banks," adds Chethan, making his honest plea.
As for their future plans, the team is working on two projects, one of which is a community blood bank. "We are planning to open in the northeastern part of India. This bank will not charge any set price prescribed by the state or central government for blood units, it will be available free of cost irrespective of the financial background of the patient. We are also trying to include mental health facilities when it comes to blood requirements. When a patient is admitted in a hospital and the family is informed to arrange blood, along with the pressure they are already under, they undergo extra pressure to look out for donors. They are either depressed or sad. In India, mental health plays a very big role. We want to make sure that the patient's family members have someone to speak to during these scenarios. We are in talks with a couple of psychologists and therapists who will provide counselling services to patient family members," concludes Chethan.