Ethical Challenges in Voluntary Blood Donation in Kerala, India
Journal of Medical Ethics 2007 March; 33(3): 140-142
The National Blood Policy in India relies heavily on voluntary blood donors, as they are usually assumed to be associated with low levels of transfusion-transmitted infections (TTIs). In India, it is mandatory to test every unit of blood collected for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, syphilis and malaria. Donors come to the blood bank with altruistic intentions. If donors test positive to any of the five infections, their blood is discarded. Although the blood policy advocates disclosure of TTI status, donors are not, in practice, informed about their results. The onus is on the donor to contact the blood bank. Out of approximately 16 000 donations in the past 2 years, 438 tested positive for TTI, including 107 for HIV. Only 20% of the donors contacted the blood bank; none of them were HIV positive. Disclosure by blood banks of TTI status by telephone or mail has resulted in serious consequences for some donors. Health providers face an ethical dilemma, in the absence of proper mechanisms in place for disclosure of test results, regarding notification to donors who may test positive but remain ignorant of their TTI status. Given the high cost of neglecting to notify infected donors, the authors strongly recommend the use of rapid tests before collecting blood, instead of the current practice, which takes 3 h to obtain results, and disclosure of results directly to the donor by a counsellor, to avoid dropouts and to ensure confidentiality.
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