KARACHI: As Afeefa, a thalassaemia patient, grows older her father, Wajahat Ayaz, is doubling his efforts to get more than a single bag of blood every month. His only daughter means everything to him but there are only seven donors in Pakistan and just five of them live in Karachi.
The 10-year-old needs at least two bags of blood a month but she struggles to gets one bag with the cooperation of donors, two of whom live outside Pakistan. When Afeefa was diagnosed with thalassaemia in 2008, doctors discovered she has one of the rarest blood groups in the world – the HH blood group, more commonly known as the Bombay phenotype.
Despite her father’s endeavours, only nine donors have been identified in the last eight years. According to Ayaz, five donors live in the city, while one is from Lahore and another from Vehari, a city near Multan. He said that two donors reside in America and help the ailing girl when they visit Pakistan.
The Bombay blood group was identified 60 years ago and was named after the Indian city in which it was first discovered. This blood type has a negative reaction to all normal ABO blood types [i.e. groups O, A, B and AB] and has a reported frequency of one in 10,000 individuals in India and one in a million people in Europe. There are no ill-effects of belonging to this rare group but if a blood transfusion is ever needed, finding another person with the same blood type can be difficult.
“So is the case with Afeefa,” Ayaz said. “The blood disease is not a major problem but to arrange this rare group is,” he explained. “I am always in search of persons with this rare blood group.”
Ayaz fears that a few of the current donors will soon not be in a position to donate blood to his only daughter due to their progressing age. “My daughter survives due to their [donor’s] cooperation,” he said, adding that this is the first case of thalassemia in their family and no one else has the same blood group.
According to Dr Saqib Ansari, a haematologist who has been treating Afeefa for the last eight years, there might be more people with this rare blood group. “But no one knows about them. Even they [might be] unaware of their blood group,” he explained.
“[Afeefa] is the only thalassemia patient in Pakistan who needs this rare blood group,” claimed Dr Ansari. He said that it was due to the continuous struggle of Afeefa’s father that the donors were found. The girl’s survival will become very difficult if a few of the donors cannot donate blood in the coming years, he lamented. “There is an urgent need for people with this blood group to come forward and help the family,” he appealed.
Dr Ansari said that the parents of patients with negative blood groups are always in trouble. There is a lack of awareness among people about the importance of blood donation, he claimed. “Every individual should know about his or her blood group and must donate to people in need,” he urged.
Afeefa’s father appeals to those persons with this rare blood group to contact him at the Omair and Sana Foundation and help him save his daughter.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2016