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