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.