As the need for blood outstrips supply, two brains find a fix

Published: December 19, 2011
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SaveLife.pk registers blood donors and seekers across Pakistan. DESIGN: ANAM HALEEM

SaveLife.pk registers blood donors and seekers across Pakistan. DESIGN: ANAM HALEEM

KARACHI: 

In a city that perennially competes for the title of murder capital of the world, the demand for blood is hard to stanch. And, as with the other cities in Pakistan, such as Lahore, the same situation arises when there are intermittent outbreaks of epidemics like dengue and natural or man-made disasters.

Fortunately, two young men from Lahore were inspired by this challenge. As dengue claimed more and more victims, Talal Masood began to think. Given that there were a number of individuals and organisations working to connect blood seekers and donors, he thought why not try to unite and connect them on one platform.

He took this idea to his friend, Ahsen Masood. Months later, they launched SaveLife.pk, an internet- and SMS-based service that connects blood seekers, donors, hospitals and doctors across Pakistan.

The website advertises itself as a free service that creates a database for willing donors to sign up through an SMS or an online form. Once you are signed up as a donor you can receive a request for blood at any time for your specific blood type, and the aim of the service is to connect people who are in close proximity to one another. The website is currently functional but still a work in progress.

“You can search the database for blood type but you can also put in the city you are in and even specific areas within the city,” Talal told The Express Tribune. “We are developing location-based mobile applications that can search for donors automatically within a certain radius of your location.”

Even though the project is only a few weeks old, over 2,500 people in over 100 cities in Pakistan have already registered as donors. The project is entirely self-funded and telecom companies have been cooperating by providing SMS short codes that only cost the users a nominal fee.

“We have no plans to make money from the service right now, but if we have to start putting heaver funding into the SMS service we may have to start selling ad space on our website,” said Talal, who grew up infatuated with computers.

Savelife.pk has gotten off to a promising start but the service comes with a risk, which it acknowledges. There is no formal vetting process for the quality of the blood, the patient or the authenticity of the demand and supply. “We don’t take any responsibility for the blood being provided and it is up to the seeker to ensure that it is coming from a credible source,” Talal stressed. Indeed, there are plenty of risks out there such as drug users selling blood to fund their habit.

The fact of the matter is that these young men are stepping in where the state has stepped out. “It is the government’s responsibility to screen blood and provide it through a centralised blood bank,” said a well-known haematologist, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Why are they not doing anything about it?” This doctor suggests that at least seven centralised blood transfusion centres are needed in Karachi. “The safest way to do this [ensure screened blood is transfused] is not for you or me or anyone else to look into it, but for the proper authorities to deal with the matter.”

International health organisations estimate that about one per cent of Pakistanis donate blood, which explains why there is such a frantic demand.

For their part, the SaveLife.pk creators are trying their best to put in as many checks and balances as they can. They are aware that the service can be sabotaged by people looking to earn easy cash by scamming the service into providing them free blood. “We had one phone number making three different requests for three different blood types in one day,” said Talal. “We found out that the requests were for an organisation, and asked them to register accordingly. If we had found it was a scam we would block the number.”

SaveLife.pk also plans to share its database of donors with organisations providing similar services. The project’s Facebook page has highlighted some of its successes by uploading the database logs of requests for blood being met within one hour – and in another case, in one minute. And sometimes, that’s all it takes.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (3)

  • Norbert
    Dec 19, 2011 - 10:24AM

    Bravo.. Great to see young people’s rising to fill a major void.. Keep it up..!!!Recommend

  • juggler
    Dec 19, 2011 - 5:26PM

    He brain stormed a lot and came up with just a website? . Isn’t it bit too common these days to try to involve a website and sms messaging in almost everything? And it took two brains to find a such a solution?
    Have we forgotten that those who are literate and well-to-do have access to blood supply almost always?
    Its THE POOR and ILLITERATE people we are supposed to think about. If we really claim to have a desire to bring change, we should start thinking beyond urban areas.
    Our blood groups should be added to our ID cards if we want to be a blood donor. NADRA should have a helpline where one can get a list of blood donors in a desired area. Govt should offer tax relaxation (any small percentage) for a given year to those who are willing to donate blood and have donated at least twice in that year. Moreover, hospitals should provide pick and drop facility to blood donors. There is a LOT which can be done, and which DOES NOT need a website.Recommend

  • MarkH
    Dec 19, 2011 - 7:12PM

    @juggler:
    That’s not completely correct. The literate and well off do not always have access to blood. At least I can say that about the US. There are lists people go on and they sometimes get bumped up the list pending on the severity of their ailment. It would be financial suicide for them to truly favor others to a large extent as the people on those lists are watching them almost obsessively. The moment they saw favoring or foul play it would not have a quiet result.

    I can say that about the US in relation to another country and have it be relevant because medical institutions are usually more independent and people-centered as far as public relations go. They have a habit of responding to other medical issues around the world if they can spare it.

    Recommend

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