Tirtha Raj Awasthi, a 37-year-old pharmacist from Pokhara, has donated blood sixty-one times till date. He derives immense satisfaction from the knowledge that his blood could potentially save one or more lives.
Awasthi donated blood for the first time back in 2003 at a community event in Asan, Kathmandu. A couple of years later, his cousin died from blood cancer while undergoing treatment. During his cousin’s treatment, Awasthi had ensured that he got enough blood of the required B-positive group. Awasthi’s involvement in arranging blood for his dying cousin gave him a mission in life. “From that time, I committed myself to donating and arranging blood for needy patients,” he says.
Associated with the Nepal Voluntary Blood Donors’ Society, he is a well-known donor. Awasthi encourages all healthy people to donate blood to ensure its smooth supply. He remembers when even the most abundant blood group (B-positive) was once in short supply. “I used to appeal to people to donate blood through hand-written pamphlets that I would stick on hotels, shops, and local buses,” he recalls.
Awasthi cycles to different parts of the country to promote blood donation.
Suresh Manandhar, 22, from Bhaktapur, has donated blood seven times through an organization called BloodPal, a community of volunteers that connects blood donors to emergency recipients.
“I am now eagerly waiting for my eighth donation,” Manandhar says. He shares how he was fearful during his first donation. “I felt nervous that time at the Bhaktapur blood bank. But my fear evaporated as soon as I realized what my help meant for the needy family.”
Kapil Dev Bhatta, 31, from Kathmandu, has already donated blood thirteen times. Whenever he gets a call for donation or sees a blood requirement post on social media, he rushes to donate.
Since his first donation in 2011, he has accumulated both ‘good and bad experiences’. He thinks it is wonderful to be able to save someone’s life. Yet he also feels sad whenever he is deemed unfit for donation, which has happened a few times.
“I was sent away thrice because of my low blood pressure. Usually, my blood pressure is average or a bit lower than average. Whatever the case, I am determined to donate blood, and will continue to do so,” he says.
Awasthi, Manandhar, and Bhatta are among the many active blood volunteers in Nepal. They feel happy people are beginning to understand the importance of blood donation, and that the number of donors is rising.
For healthy adults, experts suggest donating blood every three months. Donating blood not only saves lives; it is also good for the donor’s health. Prior to the donation, potential donors are checked for the right pulse, blood pressure, hemoglobin level, as well as for various kinds of Hepatitis, and HIV. “It is thus a good way to know the health status of your body,” Bhatta says.
Although there is growing enthusiasm about donating blood, there are challenges as well. “People hesitate to donate when they see that our donation camps and blood banks are not properly organized,” Bhatta says. “People are also often doubtful about whether the blood they give will be put to good use.”
There is also this assumption that anyone with the same blood group can donate and receive blood, which is not true. People also keenly post and share ‘blood wanted’ items on social media without giving much information. “Just mentioning the blood group is not enough. The kind of donor varies according to what is needed: whole blood, PRP, platelets, or other things,” adds Awasthi. He says the more information people give, the easier it is to find the right match.
The stock in the Nepal Red Cross Society blood bank sometimes goes unused as people first hit social media these days. “As soon as they know blood is required, the kin of patients start posting on social media asking for potential donors to come forward. Little do they realize the bank may already have the required blood,” adds Manandhar.
Moreover, in many cases, some fees are levied against the pre-donation tests. There is also no uniformity in the fees. “The business motive evident in what should be life-saving charity is most unfortunate,” says Awasthi.
The lockdown has added to the difficulties. There is the fear of contracting the dreaded coronavirus. Ram Subedi from Kathmandu, who is just 20, says he is eagerly waiting to donate blood for the first time—but only when the pandemic dies down. According to Manandhar, mobile camps are difficult to organize, and absence of vehicles is yet another problem for emergency donors.
Despite the lockdown, organizations like Nepal Voluntary Blood Donors’ Society and BloodPal have continued to organize donation programs by following social distancing and other safety norms. “Many of us are working to ensure a smooth supply of blood for patients in these difficult times. We realize it is a matter of life and death for many,” observes Awasthi.