KARACHI: How many times have you read a post on social media saying someone needs blood urgently? How long does it take for that post to be spread and reach people willing to donate? Sometimes, the answer is too long.
Facebook’s new feature to connect blood donors and those in need may solve a lot of people’s problems and create a pool of willing donors a few keystrokes away.
The paradigm has shifted, said renowned haematologist at the National Institute of Blood Diseases, Dr Saqib Ansari. Speaking to The Express Tribune, he said Facebook’s decision to launch a feature to increase blood donation is commendable.
“The Internet and social media play a positive role in today’s world – all modern technology is useful,” said Dr Ansari.
Since the launch of the feature in January this year, several hundred thousand people have registered as donors and thousands more have responded to community requests for blood donations, according to Facebook. Pakistan needs around 2.5 million bottles of blood every year for those in need, which includes Thalassemia patients, according to Dr Ansari. “Some affluent people are willing to donate millions but don’t want to donate blood.”
He shared that when the earthquake hit Azad Jammu and Kashmir in 2005 people queued up to donate blood. “We need that sort of motivation when it comes to the donation of blood today.”
Facebook to the rescue
Pakistan is often overlooked when it comes to initial social media inclusion and when asked what prompted Facebook to launch the blood donation feature in the country, Product Lead for Health at Facebook Hema Budaraju said, “We believe that we can help make it easier for people in need to find donors and also help increase blood donations overall by creating awareness of the need for donations.”
She explained there is no possibility that the feature could be used for commercial purposes because it is illegal to solicit payment for blood donation in Pakistan and it also violates Facebook’s terms and conditions.
She pointed out that this feature helps manage blood type matches. “We’ve integrated a number of proactive checks into the product such as validating donor and requestor profiles based on the information available to us. We also give our community the ability to report suspicious profiles or requests.”
Budaraju assured that they were using trusted sources, such as reputable partners, to provide blood donation locations that can be selected from the dropdown menu when creating a request for a blood donor.
She shared that they have briefed the Safe Blood Transfusion Programme on the blood donations feature and have met with non-profit organisations like Pakistan Red Crescent and the administrators of large blood donation groups in Pakistan to understand the Pakistani blood donation landscape and how their feature can help. “We will continue to work with non-profit organisations, health industry experts, potential donors and people who have used Facebook to find blood donors to ensure that this feature continues to be useful to people of Pakistan.”
Pakistan Red Crescent Chairperson Dr Saeed Elahi said they partnered with Facebook to launch this blood donation feature in Pakistan because Facebook is a tool people use to find donors in crises like these – there are thousands of posts every month seeking blood donations and over 100,000 Pakistani Facebook users are part of blood donation groups where people are looking for blood donors.
“In Pakistan, there are few blood donors to provide everyone with reliable access to safe blood. When someone needs blood in an emergency, they often reach out to their community for help.”
When asked if he is confident that the Facebook blood donation feature will ensure safe and healthy blood donation in Pakistan, Dr Elahi said helping to keep our community safe is a top priority. Facebook’s blood donation feature only connects potential donors to blood donations groups who are looking for blood donors. All blood donations will still follow existing blood bank protocols, he explained.