PESHAWAR -- Regional blood banks are holding out the hope of saving lives in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
The KP Health Department recently launched the province's first regional blood bank, meant to save the lives of survivors of terrorism and disasters.
The blood bank began operation at the Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) in Peshawar May 17.
Four more banks will open soon in Swat, Kohat, Mardan and Dera Ismail Khan, KP Health Secretary Muhammad Abid Majeed told Central Asia Online, adding that construction work on those facilities began June 1.
Survivors of terrorist bombings often require immediate transfusions, he said.
In previous times, "even if the victims were rushed to hospitals, we depended on donors to save their lives", he said. "Now we'll be able to provide blood immediately."
Such blood banks will solve the chronic blood shortage that hospitals experience, KP Health Minister Shahram Tarakai told Central Asia Online.
Germany is funding the entire Rs. 116.8m (US $11.1m) cost of the five blood banks, Tarakai said.
Some other patients in KP need blood transfusions for other reasons.
In KP, most children affected by the blood disease thalassaemia die for lack of available blood, Ijaz Ali Khan, chief of the Hamza blood transfusion centre in Peshawar -- which serves only thalassaemia patients -- told Central Asia Online.
KP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have about 25,000 children with the disease, he said, adding that only a regional blood bank can solve the blood shortage that threatens those children's lives.
Only two months ago, a Peshawar boy died at the HMC because blood was not available, Dr. Mustafa Ahmed of the HMC told Central Asia Online.
The boy was injured by a Taliban shelling and had a rare blood type that medics did not have available, he said.
With the advent of the regional bank at the HMC, "Now we have at least 30 bags for each blood group," he said. "We can supply them to critically injured patients in Lady Reading Hospital [LRH] and Khyber Teaching Hospital."
The HMC used to have at least 10 patients injured in terrorist attacks die every month, Ahmed said.
The on-site regional blood bank provides an "immediate supply of blood" for them now, he said.
At least 200 patients in LRH alone have died in the past 10 years for lack of blood, KP Director General of Health Pervez Kamal told Central Asia Online.
Working on relevant legislaton
KP officials are working to adjust the law to protect recipients of blood transfusions.
"We are in the process of having the provincial assembly pass the Safe Blood Transfusion bill," Tarakai said.
The bill is supposed "to ensure that patients get screened blood", he added.
"We sped up legislation to ensure smooth sailing for the bill," he said.
If the bill becomes law, medics hope to stop the blood-borne transmission of hepatitis and HIV in KP, he said.
"We are establishing a blood transfusion authority to hold private blood centres responsible for violating the law," Kamal said, referring to already-existing private blood banks that sometimes accept virus-tainted blood from unsuitable donors.
Encouraging voluntary donations
"We'll be encouraging voluntary donation through health camps at colleges and universities," Ahmed said.
To encourage the development of a habit of donating blood, medics will tell the public that donating blood is beneficial to the donors, not harmful.
The blood banks will mark the first time that patients in KP can receive blood from strangers (as opposed to family members' blood) for free, Ahmed said. Previously, patients without family donors either paid for blood from privately run banks, unless they or their family paid a stranger to donate compatible blood.
Kamal is hoping that KP residents become accustomed to donating blood.
"In life-saving procedures, we need a lot of blood stock," he said. "The regional blood banks will solve the blood shortage in all hospitals."