India discards over a million units of blood collected every year, according to health ministry data. This is despite facing a severe blood shortage as only 9.9 million units are collected against the estimated annual requirement of 10-12 million units.

The reasons for collected blood having to be discarded include deterioration during storage and expiry due to outdating. The largest chunk of the wasted units is plasma, which could be used for various life-saving treatments. A unit of blood (450 ml) can potentially save at least three lives, according to the World Health Organization.

On an average, about six units of blood is needed for every open heart surgery, while a roadside accident victim could require up to 100 units. One out of every 10 people admitted to a hospital needs blood, according to WHO data.

The health ministry data was tabled in the Lok Sabha in response to a question. Reactivity for infections (malaria, syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C) and expiry due to outdating, especially for platelets, which have a short shelf life of only 5 days, are among the reasons offered by the ministry. Others include deterioration during storage in the form of discolouration, haemolysis, bacterial contamination, not meeting quality parameters after collection and production and non-completion of blood collection in requisite quantities due to donor reactions.

The ministry added that though India does not have a National Blood Transfusion Service, since public health is a state subject, state blood transfusion councils are set up in every state to monitor proper functioning of blood transfusion services.

Patients need blood after major accidents or surgeries in which there is loss of blood. After a miscarriage or childbirth, the patient may need transfusion of a large amount of blood for saving her life or the child’s. For patients with blood diseases like severe anaemias, leukaemias (blood cancer), haemophilia (bleeding disorder) and thalassemia, repeated blood transfusions are the only solution. In many other situations too, like poisoning, drug reactions, shock and burns, blood transfusion is the only way to save life. WHO estimates that blood donation by 1% of a country’s population is generally sufficient to meet its basic requirements for safe blood. Currently, an estimated 9.5 million Indians donate blood, which is 2.5 to 3 million less than the required number.

Globally, more than 2,87, 000 women die each year during pregnancy, childbirth or in the postpartum period – 99% of them in developing countries; availability of safe blood can save many of them, according to the World Health Organization.