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HEALTH-INDIA: Prisoners' Blood Safe Too - Rights Groups


NEW DELHI, Mar 12 (IPS) - In an unusual complaint, India's top prison official has accused the country's biggest blood bank of violating the human rights of jail inmates.

The Director General of Prisons, Ajay Agrawal has formally complained to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), against the refusal by the Indian Red Cross Society to accept voluntary blood donations from prisoners.

In his complaint, Agrawal has said that the Red Cross argument that prisoners are "high risk donors", is not only "highly discriminatory", but also "derogatory and in violation of the human rights of prisoners."

Rights groups here say that the affair has shown again the prejudices that are worsening the shortage of blood needed for infusion by the country's hospitals. The prisons' chief complained to the NHRC -- a statutory body -- after the Red Cross refused to accept blood donated by some of the 2,200 prisoners lodged in the capital city's Tihar Central Jail.

The voluntary donations were part of nationwide efforts to help victims of the Jan. 26 earthquake that killed more than 30,000 people in western India. According to S.H. Choudhury, director of the Red Cross blood bank, the blood was rejected because the prisoners were considered "high risk donors."

In his complaint, prisons' chief Agrawal said the Tihar prisoners were feeling "totally isolated and condemned" by the Red Cross rejection.

Under existing rules, prisoners are entitled to donate blood twice a year and thus earn a month's remission for that year. Agrawal pointed out that the rejection of their blood donations, also amounted to the denial of a chance to get their jail term reduced.

Rights groups and some medical professionals say that the Red Cross argument is unscientific and reflects attitudes that are responsible for creating a blood shortage in the country.

According to Iqbal Malik, who heads the non-governmental group 'Vatavaran', Delhi alone needs some 300,000 units of blood annually. Less than half of this is actually collected by blood banks.

Studies by her group have found that a two-year-old order by India's Supreme Court, has added to the shortage.

The court then banned patients from buying blood from professional donors. It had ruled on the basis of a study by a firm of chartered accountants, which said that professional blood donors were likely to come from the "dregs of society" and therefore likely to have contaminated blood.

The study conducted by A.F. Ferguson, said that professional donors were mostly poor people, many of whom were likely to be drug abusers and engaging in unsafe sex. They were therefore "high risk groups for hepatitis and AIDS and are unfit to donate blood," the study noted.

Rights groups and owners of private blood banks that depend on professional donors, protested against the ruling, which they said, lacked scientific basis. According to V.B. Lal, a surgeon who runs the capital city's largest private blood bank, the poor and unemployed blood donors do not necessarily indulge in "high-risk behaviour".

"What is required to be known is that donated blood is scientifically safe and tested rather than its antecedents," said Lal.

The Vatavaran study found that the Supreme Court ban only helped drive professional blood donations 'underground', with such donors demanding 'risk money' in case they got caught.

According to Lal, blood banking in the country was also troubled by the belief that donating blood would somehow weaken the donor. Lal blamed the government for not carrying out a proper public awareness campaign to educate potential donors.

Blood donations are usually organised at 'blood donation camps' run by either non-government organisations or government agencies.

At times, the blood donated at such camps has been found to have higher 'seropositivity' for HIV than that taken from professional donors by private blood banks.

Medical professionals and rights groups also criticise some prominent people's groups that are now demanding that patients be allowed to get blood infusions from their own relatives rather than blood banks.

A leading voluntary group, Common Cause has petitioned the Delhi High Court for orders that allow the "taking of blood from relative and friends as a step towards discouraging commercial blood which will be inherently infected."


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Information in this article was accurate in March 12, 2001. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.