Sikhs squeeze out blood donor victory?
Donations of blood by many thousands of Sikhs may have earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the donors and the holy town of Anandpur Sahib in the Punjab.
Anandpur Sahib is revered as the place where the tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, founded the Khalsa (the body of pure believers) on April 13 1699.
Health authorities there are reported to have collected 18,207 units of blood inside 16 hours during a mass blood camp coinciding with the Hola Mohalla celebrations from 7.25pm on March 10.
Expectations had risen to the point where the organisers were said to be looking to collect 25,000 units in 24 hours.
That never happened but it seems as if the previous Guinness Book record will have been narrowly overtaken. The current entry is for an effort by Dera Sacha Sauda, Sirsa, for a blood donation camp at Bapu Ji village in Sri Gangananagar, which attracted 17,921 donors in October, 2004.
The Anandpur Sahib tally will be submitted to the Guinness Book for ratification. Record or not, the event provides a major boost to blood supplies in a country where voluntary donations lag far behind need.
The camp comprised 14 blocks of 50 beds. One hundred doctors supervised around 3,000 paramedics plus many hundreds of volunteers in taking the blood, which was gratefully accepted by more than 100 blood banks from all over India.
A surprising feature was the substantial contribution from women, thought to be more than 30 per cent.
The Hola Mohalla celebrations centred on the Sikh shrine of Keshgarh Sahib with the blood donation camp sited on the campus of Khalsa College.
The camp was organised by the Akal Takht, Sikhism’s highest temporal seat, the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SPGC) and the Akal Purakh ki Fauj (Army of the Almighty). It was envisaged as a firm statement that for Sikhs there should be no objection to donating blood.
The celebrations attracted Sikhs and their neighbours from all over Punjab and India. The colourful festival included a mock battle between opposing forces – the Hola and the Mohalla – drawn from the ranks of the Sikhs’ Nihang warrior sect.
Blood donation in India is often arranged around large gatherings, community groups recognising the constant need to volunteer fresh supplies.
Over several years the government has been trying to reduce the volume of blood given by professional donors. In 2002 the World Health Organisation caclulated that only 52.42 per cent came from volunteers in India. The balance came from family members – and those who sold their blood.
Professional donors, many of whom are drug addicts, are major contributors to the spread of HIV and Aids infections. There are thought to be 2,000 blood banks in the country and half of these are unlicensed. In addition, many pathology laboratories are said to supply blood without scientific testing.
Though buying and selling of blood is banned, the business of paid blood donation goes on even though paid donors can often be identified by multiple puncture marks on their arms and by low haemoglobin, resulting from donating every week instead of once every three months which gives a donor time to rebuild the iron in his or her system.
Paid donors often pose as members of the families of patients needing a transfusion.
Health authorities in India await the introduction of a new blood transfusion act which will sanction punishments including jail for some for who violate blood collection, storage and transfusion rules. It will go hand in hand with efforts to build an effective national transfusion service.
There are thought to be more than four million HIV positive people in India.
Sikhs in Britain who wish to donate blood in the UK can find out how to do it by consulting the UK National Blood Service site at www.blood.co.uk
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