While the overall number of blood donors in India has grown over the years, women constitute only a tiny 10 percent share. It is not that women do not volunteer to donate blood. They do, but most of them are not eligible to donate due to health problems like pernicious anaemia and low haemoglobin levels or being underweight, says N.K.Bhatia, medical director, Jan Jagriti Blood Bank.
A donor must have 12 mdg haemoglobin, which carries blood from the lungs to the rest of the body, including the brain. Most women fail to make the mark.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Database on Blood Safety (GDBS) 2011, 90 percent of blood donors in India were men and only 10 percent were women.
WHO had previously indicated that India reported the greatest increase in blood donors from 3.6 million in 2007 to 4.6 million in 2008. There are no figures for the subsequent years.
Data shows that women make for more than 40 percent of blood donors in 25 countries, among them Australia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Moldova, Mongolia, New Zealand, Portugal, Swaziland, Thailand, the US and Zimbabwe.
India faces a whopping 30-35 percent blood deficit annually. The country needs around 8 to 10 million units of blood every year but manages a measly 5.5 million units.
Blood banks and doctors say the huge deficit should be addressed and if more women contribute, it would help us the bridge the gap.
"Whenever we have camps in schools and colleges many young girls come, but out of them less than 25 percent are eligible to donate blood. Usually they are at a haemoglobin level of 11 from the prescribed 12. When it comes to individuals who come up to blood banks the women donors are less than seven percent," Vanshree Singh, director, Indian Red Cross Society, told IANS.
Women who have heavy blood loss during menstruation are also not allowed to donate. According to doctors, menstruating women lose about 80 ml of blood every month.
"During menstruation, those women who have heavy blood loss should not donate blood. There are women who volunteer even during menstruation. If the haemoglobin levels are adequate they can donate blood. Many women are deprived of protein and iron supplements. Surprisingly, it is not just women from low income groups but even those from middle and upper middle income groups are anaemic as many do not have a nutritious and balanced diet," Anuradha Kapoor, head of obstetrics at Max Hospital, told IANS.
The doctor also said a lot of myths still prevail on blood donation among rural women.
"Most women from rural parts of the country think that donating blood would lead to some kind of health problem and weakness. Many also fear their health will deteriorate due to blood donation. Even in urban areas, there are fears of health hazards like developing anaemia and complications during pregnancy," Vanshree Singh said.